Monday, 1 June 2009

REVIEW: “Arcadia”

I have something of an odd relationship with the works of Tom Stoppard. I love reading Stoppard, and definitely belong to the camp which calls the man a genius, but at the same time I find watching his works less enjoyable, perhaps because I can read one of his plays (barring epics like The Coast of Utopia) in around an hour and a half or less but they always seem to take far, far too long to actually perform. Arcadia, considered by many to be Stoppard’s great masterpiece, falls squarely into this category, but it is also - and perhaps for the first time - quite likely that I feel this way strictly based on my seat assignment.

Yes, assignment. I should get it out of the way here that I didn’t pay for my ticket to Arcadia, and as such didn’t get to choose where I sat as tends to be part of the bargain. Anybody associated with the box office or producing the show will know where I got Upper Circle A1 from, and they will also know that the seat should be taken out of the theatre and never be sold to begin with. Why? You can’t actually see the stage. Oh sure you can see the very back of the stage in an arching sliver from about 2/3 of stage left to its corner, but virtually none of the action takes place there. Even engaging in the rather rude act of leaning with all your might provides at most half a stage worth of view. Yes, the tickets are marked restricted, and no, I didn’t pay for them, but other people seeking a bargain will only to leave in frustration.

My advice to those people? Take the benches in the back. You’ll have a clear view of everything you need, just smuggle a cushion into your bag when you go to the theatre.

But anyways. Not being able to see the show proved quite the distraction as RADA types speaking RP tend to sound the same and you get the effect of listening to an indistinct radio play from the experience. Sure the occasional moment of brilliance still smacks you with the hammer of literary light, but the rest of the play seemed a world away from me, the audience member, to the point where I debated bolting at the interval. Fortunately I didn’t bolt, as my cramped quarters did allow me one distinct advantage: being able to see where there were potentially better empty seats in the lower circle for the second half. And sure enough, despite a dirty look from an usher, I moved myself down to Dress Circle C24 and could see virtually everything except one of the entrances.

The benefit of being able to visually follow the story helped immensely,and I found the second half far more engaging, but the damage was already done: I still couldn’t actually get into the story well enough to really take it all in.

And, as I’ve written almost a page of A4, I guess I should explain what the story is: an associate of Lord Byron’s is tutor to the daughter of the house, a genius of a 16 year old who works out the dissipating nature of thermodynamic transfers far before her time. Meanwhile her tutor is subject to scandal for sleeping with a few local wives, Byron is implicated, and the whole scandal feeds into the second of Stoppard’s formulaic intertwinings (combining periods and realities is to Stoppard what the escalation of brutality is to McDonagh) about warring professors looking at the decline of enlightenment against the romantic era, tracking the grouse population, and working out Byron’s role in the scandal. It’s directed by David Leveaux, known to Americans for both his prior Stoppards as well as the 2004 revival of Fiddler on the Roof. The cast, including Stoppard’s son Ed, are fine, it’s all very RP and proper, but the acting didn’t reach the cheap seats.

A pity, really. Arcadia *is* a good play (though both acts could lose 10-15 minutes as the entire thing clocks in at 2 hr 50 including interval) but I suspect I’m in the minority in saying that I was bored by the end of each half and quite happy to get some air afterwards.

Where: Duke of York’s
When: Until 12 September, M-W, Fr/Sa @ 19:30, Th @ 19:00, W/Sa @ 14:30
How Much: £15-£49.50
Concessions: Probably.
RZ Unofficial “Worth Paying”: N/A. Can’t honestly judge.
RZ Other Notes: Is it me or is the new Ambassador website absolutely hideous for anybody trying to get, you know, useful information without having to do three times as much work as on the previous site? Heaven help those trying to book for touring productions.