Thursday, 11 June 2009

et in Arcadia ego

At last some proper theatre! After the mild disappointment of Hamlet and Godot, David Leveaux's staging of Tom Stoppard's Arcadia at the Duke of York's theatre is the best production I've seen on the London stage all year.

I'll have to admit a slight, ok an extreme bias, toward Tom Stoppard, who I think I prefer even to Shakespeare or to Beckett. A bit of provocation on this Thursday morning. He's one of those writers who, especially given that I hadn't seen or read any of his work until an impulse purchase of Rosencrantz last summer, I wonder how I ever managed to live without in my ignorance. Stoppard loves words, loves meaning, loves poetry, loves learning and wisdom - in a way that makes most scholars and poets look near numb by comparison.

This should in no way, however, diminish from the extraordinary effort of the team involved in the production of the staging: the cast is absolutely fantastic, a brilliant ensemble with nary a weak link in sight. Even the tortoise puts on a splendid show. The set is marvellously conceived and the transitions between the characters in the 19th century seamlessly converge with the modern-day story line.

This is a 'big ideas' comedy, taking on collisions between science and literature, classicism and romanticism, deterministic and unpredictable theories of the universe - but don't let that put you off, for all of these great debates are elegantly played out between character relationships across the past and present.You might also suppose that a play centred around such complex ideas as iterative algorithms might alienate the audience. You would be wrong, of course, as Stoppard's characters are so roguishly lovable that one cannot help but become emotionally entangled in their successes and failures. A play that engages on an emotional level and titillates intellectually is such a rare treat. If you see nothing else this year on the stage, see this play.

And so you don't think I'm only out for high culture, I'll also mention Sister Act the musical, which I went to see with friends last night. It's thoroughly entertaining, if a little less mentally stimulating than Arcadia. If you can believe it, by the end I was standing up, clapping, dancing and singing along with the rest of the theatre. It's very good fun and definitely worth a view.

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