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on 12 August 2017
Classic book for study
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on 16 December 2009
I saw this play in the 1990s, but it largely faded from my memory. I had the impression of it being a difficult, entertaining and serious play. I went to see it again in August 2009. I could grasp that it was an excellent and even important piece of work, though I confessed to my friend that the full message eluded me. He wisely commented that Stoppard would be disappointed if we did grasp it all.

Since then, I have bought a copy and read it. Unlike many plays, the reading was clearer than the staged version - though the sequence of seeing the play on the stage first doubtless influences that opinion. It is so packed with clever, fizzy ideas that it is difficult to understand them from the fast, witty dialogue. On the page, one can slow down and turn back. It is a play to be highly recommended, a towering intellectual achievement, maybe (probably) a rung above `Copenhagen' by Michael Frayn.

To summarise the plot of the play would take many paragraphs, and would possibly spoil it for those who have not seen or read it. Instead, it is fruitful to highlight the theme of Time.

`Arcadia' opens with a scene from 1809, as you can tell from the dress and language. So we are shifted back in time by 200 years. The very first line of the play, from a curious, intelligent, naïve girl called Thomasina to her tutor raises a laugh from the audience: "Septimus, what is carnal embrace?" This leads into the comic, slightly farcical, country-house drama that Stoppard loves - as in `The real inspector Hound'. The entangled relationships and attractions are a thick thread in the tapestry of the story, running in parallel between the early 19th Century and modern times.

`Attraction' is a word used with care, because one of the topics they talk about is Newtonian physics and his laws of gravity. Newton's model of the universe opens the possibility of everything being deterministic, but that is upset in human life by the life force of sex - "the attraction which Newton left out". The human race moves forward in time and survives, thanks to sexual attraction. But in the long run we are all doomed, because of entropy, which will cause everything in the universe to "cease and grow cold".

Time and entropy are the same thing, or at least are deeply threaded with each other. Entropy's arrow is what makes us feel time. Thomasina understands the profound implications of entropy, destroying the neat, symmetrical world of Newtonian Physics her tutor had been teaching her: "Newton's equations go forwards and backwards, they do not care which way. But the heat equation care very much, it goes only one way. That is the reason Mr Noakes's engine cannot give us the power to drive Mr Noakes's engine."

We see time operating before our eyes on the stage, as characters from the 20th Century erupt into the same room. Now we meet ambitious academics exploring the past at Sidley Park in their various ways. One is studying the shooting records to understand the chaos-theory patterns behind the grouse population. One is writing a book about the landscape gardening and the influence of the Romantic imagination. One is researching the life of Lord Byron, hoping to come up with a scandalous, dramatic event that will make his name, when published.

Time plays tricks on these searchers after truth, in that the evidence left is insufficient and misleading. Or, rather, the way they look at things causes them to bend the evidence. The University Don, Bernard, is particularly self-deluding in his eagerness to achieve fame. He convinces himself that he has found evidence of Lord Byron killing a man in a duel and fleeing the country as a result. We, the audience, already know he is barking up the wrong tree, because we have just seen the events and letters of 1809. So Bernard is not really a searcher after truth, but forms a self-serving theory first, and then imposes that theory on the evidence. He sees what he wants to see.

Time plays tricks on the earlier generation too. Thomasina Coverley also discovers the mathematics of chaos, blowing apart the neat Euclidian geometry of trianges, squares etc, with infinitely branching shapes, such as we see in nature around us - trees, for instance. The later mathematician, Valentine, has a laptop computer in which he can produce the `Coverley set' - a renamed Mandelbrot set, I presume. The cruelty of time is that Thomasina (and, later, Septimus devoting years to scribbed mathmatics) does not have the computing power to pursue her new mathematics. She lives in the wrong age.

As Valentine says "There wasn't enough time. There weren't enough pencils! (He flourishes Thomasina's lesson book.) This took her I don't know how many days and she hasn't scratched the paintwork. Now she'd only have to press a button over and over. Iteration. A few minutes. And what I've done in a couple of months, with only a pencil the calculations would take me the rest of my life to do again - thousands of pages - tens of thousands! And so boring!"

The characters from the two ages, Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, take turns on the stage, with wonderful comic interactions, a supremely clever country house farce, where the two sets of characters do not talk directly with each other. However the earlier set is being observed, not only by the audience, but also by the other set of characters. The later set of characters is also silently being mocked by the earlier set, for getting their interpretations so wrong.

Towards the end, Stoppard boldly brings both ages on to the stage at the same time. The two eras end up both waltzing around the room. This is wonderful symbolism, bringing to mind the attraction of the sexes, the orbits of the planets, the whirl of atoms, the mathematics of chaos, the comedy and melancholy of human relationships....
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on 2 August 2010
Arcadia is a play, set partly in 1809 and partly in the present day (it was first staged in 1993) in a large country house inhabited by the Cloverly family. The play has the two parts which are played out in separate scenes but within the same stage setting, a large room furnished primarily with a large table, the contents of which form an integral part of the plot. It jumps back and forth between the two separate but interlocked stories: the first story concerning Thomasina and her tutor Septimus, the remodelling of the gardens and a not inconsequential sexual indiscretion in the gazebo; in the second part Hannah and Bernard are separately researching events at the house, and trying to figure out who the elusive hermit might have been. The presence, or not, of the poet Byron, and his part in the events concerned, is a cause for much debate. In the final part of the play you have characters from both parts of the story on the stage together, crossing over each other and drawing together the strands of the tale.

I so enjoyed reading this play and will jump at the chance to see it on the stage some time. It is not something you can sum up easily but everything about it was so clever. The writing is just wonderful, every exchange is important, the characters are all real people, it is very witty and made me laugh out loud several times. The thing that strikes me the most though is even just reading it I could visualise how it would look on the stage, and how it makes perfect use of the medium. Many plays are just people telling a story on a stage, this play uses the stage and the coming and goings of the actors to it's fullest effect. The importance of the props is one example, the book that Thomasina writes in, the plans for the new garden, letters tucked inside a poetry book, and most importantly the tortoise, and also music playing in the background as a link between the two time periods. Even to turn it into a film would be pointless, because it has only one setting, if you tried to move the action outside for example, into the garden, you would gain nothing and lose something essential to the play. It is just a perfect piece of theatre.
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on 29 August 2013
This is a splendid production of 'Arcadia' by L.A.Theatre Works, recorded in 2009 using an earlier script version than the (barely noticeably) revised edition published in the same year. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to it with, for me, only one minor reservation. Lady Croom was portrayed as rather shrill and not played nearly grandly enough, that is to say, in the way one would imagine Lady Bracknell to sound like, given that this is how her character reads in the script, with her acerbic comments and Wildean aphorisms. Other than that, the performances are commendable and there are only the rarest and slightest of clues in pronunciation that the cast is American and not British.

The cd production has been altered since the printing of the cover information. There is, in addition to the production, an interview but rather than the one advertised with Ira Nadel, Professor of English at the University of British Columbia, there is instead a half-hour discussion between producer Susan Lowenberg and Steven H Strogatz, Professor of Applied Mathematics at Cornell University, who gives a very interesting and approachable explanation of chaos theory and other mathematical insights within the context of the play.

I do recommend this audio book as being well worth listening to if, like me, you haven't had the opportunity to see a stage production, or if you are studying the play, as it interprets the brilliance of the script to a very high standard and in a most enjoyable way.

Jim Simpson
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on 3 December 2009
The play itself if fascinating and definitely worth a read, but I would certainly suggest buying a different edition.

The Faber and Faber edition is simply poor quality, with many errors and typos, even getting characters names wrong towards the end. I studied this book for A Level and almost every copy in our class had fallen apart within the first month, with pages falling out completely or hanging by one corner. I understand that books studied by students undergo a lot of wear and tear, but this is simply badly bound.

I hope this saves someone else having to selotape up their copy.
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on 3 November 2011
I love this play! I had to study it for my course and once I started reading I could not stop! This is a work of genius and Stoppard has proved to be a fantastic writer. It is witty, humorous and extremely interesting. I would recommend this to all play and drama lovers. It contains an interesting combination of themes and ideas which make it even more readable and interesting.
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on 12 September 2012
I studied this play at A level many years ago but I can't leave it alone. This is a work of total genius and, although purists would say that plays shoud be see and not read, it would be impossible to appreciate the nuances without reading it multiple times over many years. I agree with one review which suggests finding another version. The binding is poor and my copy is now stuck together with sellotape but I'll never part from it.
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This play by Tom Stoppard is ingenious. People from modern times are studying artefacts from a country house in the 1780s, coming up with all sorts of bizarre conclusions with scanty evidence. However, we the audience know that they're all wrong because we've seen the events from the 1780s in the first scenes of the play. The characters from the older time, especially Thomasina and her tutor Septimus, are well-drawn and enthralling, while the characters from modern times are more cynical, suspicious, but keen on their academic endeavors.

There's even a tortoise on the table which appears in both time periods, and becomes the focus on several laugh-aloud jokes.

I cannot do this play justice. You have to see it. Children younger than 12 are probably not the right audience for the language.

About this edition, it was perfectly serviceable for what it's for. I bought it both as hard copy and Kindle, and it was fine in both version.
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on 8 July 2017
Another well written Stoppard hit!
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on 12 March 2015
I wish Tom Stoppard would stop being quite so clever and stick with his wicked wit portrayed in the 1850's era of this play. I go to the theatre to be entertained and not to be preached at. Yes, it's wonderfully clever using a single room for both time-frames set more than 200 years apart and it's fun to see modern academics getting their research into events at the house two decades earlier all wrong. But why labour us, the audience, so heavily with scientific theories that belong in text books? Still, if you have to endure any Stoppard play, this one has to be the most entertaining and attractive.
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