Often renowned as one of the greatest plays of the 20th century, Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia will be presented by the Sydney Theatre Company this month.
The production, directed by Richard Cottrel, dabbles in a mix of comedy, sleuthing, period romance and mathematical theory. The search for truth and knowledge in the face of mystery is one that underpins the course of events as the play lurches through time between the 19th century and the present day.
Set in a stately English country house, Arcadia begins with prodigy Thomasina and her tutor Septimus who stumble across the chaos theory ahead of time. Two hundred years later, two scholars attempt to string together the traces of the past in the same room.
“Audiences are going to be so satisfied in watching the play because it’s like a detective story. If you feel a little bit lost it doesn’t matter because the scene after will establish and then re-establish what was just said,” explained Andrea Demetriades, who plays Hannah, a garden historian with an aversion to Romanticism.
The play deals with illicit romantic intrigues, duelling, hermits, landscaping and the second law of thermodynamics, but is perhaps not as complicated as it sounds.
“It’s magical, you will end up smiling when you leave. The whole ride of the journey is quite an extraordinary one because all the pieces that Stoppard plants all make sense by the end of the play. Everything is answered within it,” said Demetriades.
Filled with the contrasts and paradoxes typical of Stoppard’s work, Arcadia waltzes through the realm of opposites – dipping in poetry and science, reason and irrationality and theories of the Enlightenment and Romanticism to address the absurdities and chaos which surround human existence.
Demetriades explains that there’s a line in the play – “comparing what we’re looking for misses the point, it’s wanting to know that makes us matter” – which touches upon the role of curiosity and the nature of being.
“I feel like that line encapsulates our constant and endless search for why we exist and why we love – you feel as though if there’s going to be a finality to the struggle, there’s no kind of point in doing it.” (SH)
Feb 7–Apr 2. Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House. $78-$104. Tickets & info: sydneytheatre.com.au or 02 9250 1777
BY SHON HO