Arcadia, Frome Drama Club at the Merlin Theatre

TOM Stoppard’s brilliant play Arcadia is so packed full of ideas, information, coded references and wit that you have to keep your attention fully engaged not to miss vital bits of the story.

It is set in Sidley Park, ancestral home of the Croom family, in two periods – 1809 and 1995. It’s a mystery, calling for clever stagecraft and keen timing, as well as a touch as light as Stoppard’s own.

Hannah Jarvis, a garden historian, is research­ing the Sid­ley Hermit when Eng Lit professor Bernard Nighting­ale comes to visit in search of a possible Bryonic connection that might make him a glittering success.

In 1809 Thomasina Coverley, the daughter of the Lord and Lady Croom, is tutored by Septimus Hodge, at the time when Richard Noakes is busily redesigning the garden to create a fashionable Roman­tic wilderness.

The play is an astonishing whirlwind of facts and figures, mathematical propositions, sex, intrigue and academic vitriol, and as such is a huge challenge for any director and performer.

Frome Drama Club has enlisted the services of experienced director Gill Morrell to guide the 12-strong cast through the complexities of the script, with Annie Webb in charge of the costumes.

Once again Anabella Fair­grieve gives a splendid performance as the prodigiously intelligent Thomasina, with Giles de Rivaz as her charismatic tutor Hodge. Ian San­d­er­son’s self-centred poet Ezra Chater and Bryce Collishaw’s pompous Capt Brice capture the spirit of the time.

In a script so full of information for the audience it is essential that the delivery is clear, and at times the speed of the delivery from some of the women made their speeches inaudible. That might have accounted for the lack of laughter at some very funny moments from the majority of the audience. It’s a time when speaking to the front might look wrong, but is worth the price.

Lisa Kendall and Laurie Parnell had a tetchy relationship as the academics, with Drew Toynbee as the exasperated Valentine.

Stoppard’s ending can answer all the remaining questions, but this audience was left still asking. Perhaps the cast would have benefitted from a more engaged response.


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