Sports Editor JONNY SINGER gives a post-match report on the first five-star show of the term.

ADC theatre Arcadia Ben Blyth Charlie Parham Genevieve Gaunt Jonny Singer Stoppard

ADC Theatre, 17th-21st May, 7.45pm, £6-10

Directed by Charlie Parham


“Sex and Literature. Literature and Sex.” Arcadia’s principal motifs were always going to attract a good audience. Throw in some great comic lines and clever stagecraft and it’s not hard to see why it is widely considered to be Tom Stoppard’s best play.

After a slightly wooden opening exchange, perhaps just some first night nerves, this play sprang to life and kept the audience captive throughout. Its only real failing was the loss of a few lines here and there, drowned out by laughter.

The play is set in one room of a country house, and tells the stories of the early nineteenth century inhabitants and their present-day counterparts in alternating scenes. While academics attempt to uncover the secrets of the scandal around Lord Byron’s disappearance in the past, we see these secrets unfold around the lessons of young genius Thomasina Coverly and her tutor Septimus Hodge.

Photographs by Siana Bangura

The final scene, which features both time periods on stage together, is perhaps the most difficult to stage, but is here dealt with excellently, suffering none of the awkwardness to which it can be prone. Theo Hughes-Morgan’s Septimus, after a rather choked beginning in which he fluffed an important line, grew into the part impressively.

By the end of  Act One he was perfectly encapsulating the comic wit and brazen cleverness which the role required, while his relationships with Thomasina (Rozzi Nicholson-Lailey) and Lady Croom (Charlotte Hamblin) developed well. Hamblin herself was, in character and performance, a tower of strength, exuding a combination of sensuality and contempt with every move. Nicholson-Lailey meanwhile artfully conveyed the plights of a teen-genius with an impressive array of vocal and facial variations.

There are flaws, no doubt. Captain Brice is a little too much of a parody of the upper class twit to be believable. The appearance of The Independent on stage as what should be a tabloid annoyed the pedant within me. And for his first few minutes on stage Ben Blyth, playing Bernard, was almost intolerable; his attempts at flattery unnecessarily annoying and far beyond what the script requires.

But for the most part this was pure Stoppard, well-served by the performers, entertaining to the audience; and with an edge of intellectualism brought out very nicely by Jack Hudson in particular.

Blyth, once he got over his affectations, was brilliant. Funny, enthusiastic and above all very convincing, his chemistry on stage with Genevieve Gaunt (playing the author Hannah Jarvis) was extremely entertaining.

Around the fringes this was also a polished production. Harry Michel’s portrayal of the cowardly poet Chater was fun to watch, while Gus (played by Sam Curry) was a prime example of how much can be conveyed by a character without ever speaking.

In terms of the merits of the production as an expression of the director’s take on the play, there isn’t much to say. Stoppard himself leaves little to the imagination of the individual in his stage directions, and so this is very much as you would expect any performance of Arcadia to be.

The decision to move the play to 2011 slightly distorted the history of the maths, and one has to question whether this was a distinct choice by Parham or merely an acceptance that Stoppard’s “present day” should be maintained, but in reality it did little to change the audience’s appreciation of the work itself.

The brilliance lies equally in the script and the performances of those on stage. In both of these respects it’s hard to find a more enjoyable example of (reasonably) contemporary British theatre.