Thame Players’ production of Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia was a big success last week, according to reviewer Gwillym Scourfield.
This may not be forgivable, but I have to own up to not being a fan of Stoppard. Like George Bernard Shaw and Oscar Wilde, the text is full of witticisms and clever allusions which demand more than I feel comfortable not understanding. Stoppard himself recognised the difficulty (impossibility) of presenting his work.
He worked almost entirely with one director - Peter Wood. His work is fabulously difficult to direct and act. I expected, therefore, little from Tim Shepherd’s production. How would he get a cast, keep up the pace and enable Stoppard’s cardboard-thin characters to become credible? …
I am totally ashamed of my scepticism. The play I saw tonight was terrific in every department. It was an immensely entertaining and intellectually-stimulating evening; very funny, very provocative and full of philosophical enigmatic puzzles and multiple levels of symbolism.
Most enjoyable was the tremendous cast. Lizzie Giles’ Thomasina was a total delight. Her shining portrayal radiated a very solid character, underpinned with suppressed sexual excitement worthy of Jane Austin. A joy to look at in all those lovely costumes, she gave Thomasina a life and coquettish energy throughout. Robin Kendall’s Septimus was similarly a triumph of well-timed comedic acting with an equally-credible character that was never overplayed. Robin’s acting skills are of such a high order that they never once showed. It looked effortless. It was flawless. Yvonne Maxwell’s stunning Lady Croom will live on in the minds of her audience, too. It was iconic - Lady Bracknell on wheels! Wonderful! Tony Long and Jenny Warner played Bernard Nightingale and Hannah Jarvis like a double act, sparring together and working lines off each other with the precise timing of actors at the top of their game - a Wimbledon singles final of theatre. I
t is impossible to say too much in praise of the principals. Ryan Swaby’s Valentine called for linguistic versatility worthy of Stephen Fry. It was a confident, flowing performance, balanced by his stage sister, Hannah Jones. Her role called for a stage journey, too, allowing us to see her as a potential partner for Bernard. The script doesn’t make that easy, but Hannah achieved it, despite all difficulties. There were no weak players at all. The minor parts were all more than competently played, too; excellent work from Malcolm Ross, Mike Rochford, Graham Sinclair Jones, Richard Potts, and Charlie Lowe.
The costumes had all the usual fine detail of period, well- researched and finely made. Somehow the wardrobe department made them easy enough to change and move about in - both absolutely vital for this show. The set designers and builders managed to construct a set that looked as big as a West End set. How do they do that? It looked enormous! What a team. Lighting and sound made sure the show looked and sounded crystal clear.
In short, Tim Shepherd’s work was brilliant in every sense of that word. It was all a great tribute to the highly-sophisticated, all-round theatrical skills that the Thame Players have now amassed. Well done everyone!