Arcadia, Swan Theatre, Yeovil

TOM Stoppard’s play Arcadia is rightly regarded as one of the great theatrical works of the late 20th century, a play packed with invention, ideas, wit and learning.

It is very funny, but the audience needs a certain degree of erudition to get the jokes.  Set in two distinct periods in the same room of Sidley Park, its staging makes special demands on both cast and designers.

This week at Yeovil’s Swan Theatre the company is tackling the play under the direction of Philip Turley, best known as an actor in the Street and Wells area.

Traditionally, the Swan Monday audience is made up of supporters of a designated charity (this time Chernobyl Children’s Lifeline), who may not all be regular theatregoers. That can mean that the first night audience may be less responsive than the cast wants and needs.

I think this is the sixth production of Arcadia I have seen, and there is no denying that it is wordy and complex, demanding its audience’s attention as it skips delightedly between 1809 and the present day, discussing time, the universe, and everything.

In previous productions, the combined role of Plautus and Lightning has been taken by an artificial tortoise, but at the Swan, Brian makes the most of his central role. Never act with animals or children is the rule. You might not think a tortoise could steal a show. You’d be wrong. There was more concern about his falling off the table than about many of Mr Stoppard’s academic arguments.

Newcomer Lisha Allen is a terrific Thomasina Coverley, daughter of Lady Croom, curious teenager and mathematical genius. She captures both the intellectual  and sexual excitement to perfection.

Another impressive Swan debut comes from John Robinson as the laconic Valentine Coverley, inheritor of his ancestor Thomasina’s   mathematical brain.

Roger Chadbourne is a hilarious cuckolded would-be poet, Ezra Chater, and Alison Maynard-Griffin a lusty Lady Croom.  Chris Williams manages the combination of intellect and libido as tutor Septimus Hodge.

Sarah Easterbrook and Richard Jones are the 20th century interloper academics at Sidley Hall, sparring  and competing for literary discovery, and Jess Payne is the youthful Chloe, infatuated by Bernard Nightingale, the pretentious prat.

Arcadia is a unique play, and the Swan company and Mr Turley have introduced some witty insights.


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