Arcadia

Te Whaea National Dance and Drama Centre, 11 Hutchison Rd, Newtown, Wellington

19/10/2007 - 27/10/2007

Production Details


by Tom Stoppard
directed by Tim Spite


Truth, Belief, Love and Mathematics

Arcadia is a modern classic. By the inimitable Tom Stoppard (Shakespeare in Love, Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead, The Coast of Utopia) this award winning play of star-crossed love and the second law of thermodynamics is presented by a cast and crew of graduating Toi Whakaari: NZ Drama School students in October.

Tim Spite (The Brilliant Fassah, The Remedy Syndrome, SEEyD) returns to Toi Whakaari 16 years after graduating from the acting course to direct Arcadia, one of the Graduation Shows for 2007.

“I am in awe of this writing,” says Spite, when asked about why he chose the play. “Very rarely do you get to explore something theatrical and witty that isn’t Shakespeare.”

When:  8pm, 19 -27 October (2pm matinee Sat 20 & Sat 27 October, no show Mon 22 Oct)

Where:  Te Whaea Theatre, Te Whaea: National Dance and Drama Centre, 11 Hutchison Street, Newtown

Price:  $20 / $15

Bookings:  04 381 9253 (automated line)

Spite appeared in Circa’s 1996 Arcadia, which played to sold out houses, and is keen to leave his own stamp on the play. “I couldn’t resist this play because as well as being very funny it discusses the interface between truth and belief, which is something that intrigues me a lot.” 

Spite’s own theatre group – The SEEyD Company – has looked at this very issue in subjects such as vaccination, genetic engineering, colonisation and spiritualism.

“In Arcadia clues are left by the past and are interpreted by modern scholars. But it’s interpretation clouded by personal belief, and that’s what I find interesting. Stoppard very cleverly sheds some light on the difficulty of research and how history unfolds for intricate reasons that we can never fully grasp once the time has passed.”

Spite enthuses about Stoppard’s ability to weave a wide array of subjects into one play; mathematics, physics, thermodynamics, computer algorithms, fractals, population dynamics, chaos theory, determinism, landscape design, romanticism, classicism, poetry, Byron, modern academia and sexual politics.

“What’s more is that he does all this in plain language without losing sight of a simple human story of attraction and impossible love.”


Designers
Chris O'Neill - Set
Meggan Frauenstein - Costume
Lucie Camp - Lighting

Featuring: 
Antonia Bale
Natasha Falconer
Sophie Hambleton
Ahilan Karunahara
Natano Keni
Natalie Medlock
Ryan Richards
Bryony Skillington
Lee Smith-Gibbons
Shaneel Sidal
Sarita So
Stephen Townshend
Evania Vallyon
Hollie Weir  


Theatre ,


3 hours incl. interval

A rich theatrical dish

Review by Thomas LaHood 26th Oct 2007

This is a play for and about intellectuals, a brainy person’s play.

It asks deep questions about the need for faith and proof in the search for fundamental truth, and makes plenty of comment about humanity and society at the same time.

Tom Stoppard’s text is dense and dialogue-heavy, and although very tightly wrought, it is not without its dull moments.

Fortunately, director Tim Spite has championed the humour of the script, and this Arcadia is much funnier than I remember the from Circa production of ’96.

From a story encompassing 14 characters, two time periods and plenty of logarithmic algebra, it’s difficult to distil a synopsis, but the main story centres on the discovery of thermodynamics by 16-year-old Thomasina Croom (played on alternate nights by Natalie Medlock and Sophie Hambleton) in England, 1810.

Surrounding this precocious girl is a company too caught up in the romantic world of sex and manners to notice or protect the genius in its midst. 

This is juxtaposed with the present (of the late 20th century), in which researchers struggle with ego, prejudice and assumption as they try to piece together the secrets of the Croom Estate.

The cast of graduating Toi Whakaari students perform with energy and skill.  All 14 actors are well cast, although most seemed constrained by the sheer verbosity of the text, and there are only a few moments where the dramatic flow really takes off and holds the audience in the moment. 

Standout performances for this reason were Ryan Richards as Byron scholar Bernard Nightingale, whose "Ha-Ha!" channels vintage Hugh Laurie, and Antonia Bale who positively sizzles as regal, domineering Lady Croom. 

Both bring vivacity to their roles that goes beyond the text and helps the drama to really come to life.

The production design is appropriately ornate.  In Chris O’Neill’s set a beautiful circular table strewn with fascinating props (including a humorously crappy remote-control tortoise) sits atop a sundial-illustrated floor, and ghostly doors and bookshelves float against a wall of architectural drawings.

When combined with temporal lighting by Lucie Camp and bursts of radio pop spliced with classical music, the effect of dislocation in time and dimension is well evoked.

This is a play about the architecture of existence, and as such is a fairly rich theatrical dish that might take a bit of digesting for some audiences.

Spite and his cast of talented up-and-comers have worked hard to make it engaging and entertaining.
This is a play for and about intellectuals, a brainy person’s play.

It asks deep questions about the need for faith and proof in the search for fundamental truth, and makes plenty of comment about humanity and society at the same time.

Tom Stoppard’s text is dense and dialogue-heavy, and although very tightly wrought, it is not without its dull moments.

Fortunately, director Tim Spite has championed the humour of the script, and this Arcadia is much funnier than I remember the from Circa production of ’96.

From a story encompassing 14 characters, two time periods and plenty of logarithmic algebra, it’s difficult to distil a synopsis, but the main story centres on the discovery of thermodynamics by 16-year-old Thomasina Croom (played on alternate nights by Natalie Medlock and Sophie Hambleton) in England, 1810.

Surrounding this precocious girl is a company too caught up in the romantic world of sex and manners to notice or protect the genius in its midst. 

This is juxtaposed with the present (of the late 20th century), in which researchers struggle with ego, prejudice and assumption as they try to piece together the secrets of the Croom Estate.

The cast of graduating Toi Whakaari students perform with energy and skill.  All 14 actors are well cast, although most seemed constrained by the sheer verbosity of the text, and there are only a few moments where the dramatic flow really takes off and holds the audience in the moment. 

Standout performances for this reason were Ryan Richards as Byron scholar Bernard Nightingale, whose "Ha-Ha!" channels vintage Hugh Laurie, and Antonia Bale who positively sizzles as regal, domineering Lady Croom. 

Both bring vivacity to their roles that goes beyond the text and helps the drama to really come to life.

The production design is appropriately ornate.  In Chris O’Neill’s set a beautiful circular table strewn with fascinating props (including a humorously crappy remote-control tortoise) sits atop a sundial-illustrated floor, and ghostly doors and bookshelves float against a wall of architectural drawings.

When combined with temporal lighting by Lucie Camp and bursts of radio pop spliced with classical music, the effect of dislocation in time and dimension is well evoked.

This is a play about the architecture of existence, and as such is a fairly rich theatrical dish that might take a bit of digesting for some audiences.

Spite and his cast of talented up-and-comers have worked hard to make it engaging and entertaining.

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Relentless – if beautiful – discussion of ideas

Review by Melody Nixon 22nd Oct 2007

With its large cast and abundant female roles, Tom Stoppard’s masterpiece Arcadia is an apt choice for the graduating class of Toi Whakaari New Zealand Drama School. This almost gratuitous intellectual work explores wide and ranging ideas, from the inherent value of the search for knowledge, the gradual dissipation of energy in the universe and the celebrity of academia, to the failings of the enlightenment project and the nature of ‘Truth’. Threads of physics, mathematics, literature and architecture offer pathways into detailed and revealing conversations, while a healthy narrative of romance, humour and mystery maintains theatrical momentum.

Needless to say, the occasionally esoteric script requires close attention through its tracts of philosophy and debate to grasp the jewels of thought Stoppard has on offer. It is encouraging to see the conviction and certainty with which cast engage with the material, making it apparent they have discussed and picked apart the script’s meaning with director Tim Spite. Continually poised on the ‘threshold of revelation’ – to quote Tony Kushner’s Angels in America, recently performed by the other half of graduating Toi Whakaari students – the characters grapple at profound truths, often held too-frustratingly out of reach to become verifiable.

Divided into two time periods: 1809 and the present day, Arcadia hints at the creation of myth and legend through the intellectual search for objectivity. Much like the young genius Andrew Wiles, who stumbled across Fermat’s Last Theorem when he was 10 and spent the rest of his life cracking its mystery, 13 year old Tomasina (played alternately by Natalie Medlock and Sophie Hambleton) becomes enchanted with Fermat’s puzzle, amazing her tutor, Septimus Hodge (Stephan Townshend) and disturbing her 19th century family with her precociousness. In the present day, academic Bernard Nightingale (Ryan Richards) is seeking to fill in the blanks in a mystery surrounding poet Lord Byron, which has links to Septimus Hodge and the house and world Tomasina inhabits.

Townshend is spectacularly well cast in the role of Hodge, and plays the erudite figure with consistency and maturity. His highly romanticised part exonerates the joys of intellectual rigor while dipping into pride and sexual deviance, and Townshend negotiates these shifts well, maintaining stage presence and calm throughout.

The astute writer and researcher Hannah Jarvis – rival and counterpart to Bernard Nightingale – is played with sophistication by Bryony Skillington. Hers is a wonderfully relaxed and confident performance, and her engagement with text is near complete. Jarvis’ battles – intellectual and otherwise – with the ruthless yet charming Nightingale offer chance for slips and stumbles, and while both actors miss words occasionally, by and large their exchanges are competently executed. Richards it seems has mastered the facial expressions his role requires, and adorns Nightingale with an appropriate and frighteningly ersatz smile.

Evania Vallyon deserves mention for a wonderfully evocative portrayal of wee silent boy Gus Coverly. In the role of Chloe Coverly, Lee Smith-Gibbons hams up her teenage fancy for Bernard to an extreme. While her naivety is often endearing, certain points (such as her swooning during the reading of Bernard’s speech) seem overplayed and a little stereotypical, reminiscent of Romola Garai’s Nina in the recent RSC production of The Seagull. Greater moderation and shyness could have perhaps kept this part consistent with the rest of the performances. Similarly, Antonia Bale’s Lady Croom is confidently and charmingly performed, but her enunciation and tone is a little too exaggerated and nasal at times to be comfortably received.

Set design by Chris O’Neill skillfully complements cast and script, invoking classical imagery of cartography and the historical superimposition of human-made lines on nature. The carefully painted circular calendar/compass calls forth imagery of exploration and the age of rationalism, and is thoughtfully mirrored in the round table about which the play’s events unfold. Despite the fact the near three hours of action takes place within the one room, the space created by O’Neill and his crew of constructors – Brad Cunningham and Adam Walker – feels consistently stimulating and uncluttered. Delicate costume design by Megan Fraunstein complements the space, reflecting both 19th century and contemporary settings while remaining simple and functional.

Lighting by Lucie Camp cleverly reflects certain themes of the play (for example, the shadow of intricate tree branches, looking like a series of fractals), under the expert mentorship of Natasha James. The narrowing of light to near blackout between scenes is effective in allowing the audience to prepare for a shift in tone, while keeping our attention.

While there are enough moments of ordinary dialogue in Arcadia to provide respite from the otherwise relentless – if beautiful – discussion of ideas, it is perhaps best to attend this play when in a sharp mental state; end-of-week wind down it is not. Rather this production is adeptly directed, convincing and at times impressively performed, worthwhile for its stimulating script and its exhibition of young yet accomplished and inspiring talent.

Originally published in The Lumière Reader.

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Up for challenge of comedy, complexity and Wildean wit

Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 22nd Oct 2007

One group of this year’s graduating acting students of Toi Whakaari: NZ Drama School has already presented Angels in America: Millennium Approaches, a modern American classic merging past and present whilst dealing with complex social, sexual, and political themes.

Now the remaining graduating students are presenting Arcadia, a modern English masterpiece in which Tom Stoppard weaves past and present in a complex drama involving landscape gardening, iterated algorithms, the second law of thermodynamics, Lord Byron, academic research and the emotions of love and sexual desire.

Both plays reflect the uncertainties, fears, and seismic changes of the chaotic times in which we live, which are summed up in a statement made by Valentine, a mathematician in Arcadia, who says that "It’s the best time to be alive, when everything you thought you knew is wrong."

Stoppard’s play is set in a country house, Sidley Park, at the beginning of the 19th century and in the present day. Both periods teeter on the edge of seeming chaos: the 18th century enlightenment giving way to the dangers of Romanticism and Gothic wildness, the 20th century to yet more chaos as the second law of thermodynamics grinds slowly away.

Chris O’Neill’s design of the large room in Sidley Park is superb. A huge curved wall with hidden doors is decorated with a draughtsman’s plan of the estate, while an enormous round table littered with books, paraphernalia of both periods and a pet tortoise, which moved with lightening speed at one point, dominates the stage.

The production is played in three-quarters-in-the-round and at times the positioning of the actors at the table meant that some of the dialogue was hard to hear when they were facing upstage, but it is all sumptuously dressed by Megan Frauenstein for the 19th century scenes and dramatically lit throughout by Lucie Camp and enhanced by an excellent sound design by Mike Norman.

Arcadia is a challenge for any actor with its often intellectual subject matter mixed with zestful comedy, complex situations and sophisticated Wildean wit. The students meet the challenge under Tim Spite’s unostentatious direction with great credit.

On opening night they kept the Stoppardian intellectual dance sprightly and varied, missing only the easy assertion of the aristocratic character, both social and intellectual, born of centuries of breeding and privilege, and the heartbreak of the magnificent final scene when the two lovers, unbeknownst to them, dance their first and last waltz.

It is a production the school and the students should be proud of and we should be grateful to have seen two great modern plays so close together and produced on such a lavish scale and performed with such confidence.

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Challenging production mostly works a treat

Review by John Smythe 20th Oct 2007

Tom Stoppard’s plays are nothing if not playful. They must be performed on a surging tide of ebullience if the intellectual gamesmanship, rich verbiage and ingenious word play is to be kept afloat and buoyant.

As with Shakespeare, audience comprehension comes not from studious attention to the text (although that is crucial to the actors’ early preparation) but from the humanity that propels the plot forward, swirling and churning the themes in its bow-wave and wake. It is this that allows them – and us, in the audience – to ‘windsurf’ on its turbulent energy.

While this Toi Whakaari: New Zealand Drama School production of Arcadia (the second graduation production, after Angels in America part 1) didn’t quite fly on opening night, it’s clear that all the ground work has been done and all the actors have to do is trust the work, themselves and each other to ride those waves.

Arcadia – as director Tim Spite notes in the programme – covers a vast array of subjects, including mathematics, physics, thermodynamics, computer algorithms, fractals, population dynamics, chaos theory, determinism, landscape design, romanticism, classicism, poetry, Lord Byron, modern academia and sexual politics.

What draws them together are the characters’ quests for knowledge, understanding, truth, fame and/or love, as experienced by the different generations who inhabit the Sidley Park estate in Derbyshire in two distinct eras: the early 19th century and the late 20th century (Arcadia premiered in 1992). The way order and symmetry are now giving way to randomness and relative chaos in both eras also helps to intertwine the plot lines.

Capability Brown’s symmetrical 18th Century English country garden is being remade in the wild new Gothic style – complete with a fashionable if empty ‘hermitage’ – by Richard Noakes (Natasha Falconer), dubbed “Culpability Noakes” by a less-than-impressed Lady Croom (Antonia Bale). And now, as the niceties of Newtonian physics are put in a spin by the second law of thermodynamics and such, the formal rigours of academic scholarship are being challenged by the fame-focused Bernard Nightingale (Ryan Richards).

Hannah Jarvis (Bryony Skillington) is trying to unravel the mystery of ‘The Sidley Park Hermit’ – mischievously drawn into a Noakes’ drawing by young Thomasina Coverly (Natalie Medlock*) nearly two centuries earlier. Valentine Coverly (Natano Keni) is using his laptop to pursue the algorithms his ancestor Thomasina seemed to intuitively understand. But Bernard is out to win approval by proving that Lord Byron fled England after cuckolding humdrum poet Ezra Chater (Ahilan Karunaharan) then shooting him in the subsequent duel.

The chaos caused by love and lust is common to both eras. Thomasina’s tutor Septimus Hodge (Stephen Townshend) attempts to fend off his pupil’s crush while succumbing to the unbridled passions of her mother, Lady Croom, and, earlier, the unseen Mr Chater. In the modern scenario, Hannah – more given to thinking than feeling – fends off the advances of both Valentine and Bernard, although she does finally allow a waltz with Valentine’s idiot-savant brother Gus (Evania Vallyon), whose sister Chloe (Lee Smith-Gibbons) offers a fresh if somewhat flighty contrast to the insular self interest of the others.

Completing the 1809 group are Captain Brice (Shaneel Sidal), Thomasina’s little brother Augustus (Hollie Weir) and the butler Jellaby, played here as a maid by Sarita So.

All is played out in a Sidley Park room dominated by a huge round table strewn with books and a pet tortoise (you have to be there), set against a curved wall adorned with a ground plan of the estate: a splendid set design by Chris O’Neill. Lucie Camp’s lighting design cleverly marks the time of day with the variously-placed shadow of a high curved window. Megan Fraunstein meets the costume-design challenge with alacrity and sound-designer Mike Norman has great fun juxtaposing music of the different eras.

Most memorable actors on the night were those with perhaps the more challenging and richly variegated roles: Stephen Townshend’s suave yet passionate Septimus, Natalie Medlock’s avidly inquisitive and naturally intelligent Thomasina, Antonia Bale’s imperious yet lusty Lady Croom; Bryony Skillington’s rigorously astute Hannah, Ryan Richard’s recklessly charming Bernard, Lee Smith-Gibbons’ sexy and emotional Chloe, and Evania Vallyon’s eloquently silent Gus.

Arcadia is an ambitious project for a graduation production. As a showcase for those with the juicier roles, it works a treat.
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*Thomasina is alternated, played by Natalie Medlock on 19, 20, 23 & 25 Oct at 8pm and on 27 Oct at 2pm; by Sophie Hambleton on 21, 24, 26 & 27 Oct at 8pm and on 20 Oct at 2pm.

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