By Tom Stoppard. Canberra Repertory. Director: Aarne Neeme, AM Theatre 3, Acton 1–16 August 2014.

Occasionally a work comes along that is captivating either in its mystery or in the cultural and scientific wealth it shares.  This is both.  The joy of sharing with fellow audience members such wealth and engaging in such mystery makes it all the richer, a kind of cooperative–competitive sport with no losers.


Canberra Rep’s production of Arcadia is a seriously enjoyable intellectual sport: a tale cleverly interweaving two periods: the 1800s, when the Age of Reason was giving way to Romanticism, and the early 1990s, in which a decade of greed and decadence was giving birth to a decade of extortion and overweening pride.  It’s a tale in which findings of universal significance unfold — certainly with emotional investment, but without melodrama — and do so among the everyday casual betrayals and overripe egotism that may mark the tales of even the humblest of the giants enriching our cultural and scientific heritage.


Without some nod to the complexity of our drives and our nemeses, we risk making cardboard caricatures of ourselves.  So to present such a rich banquet — appetisers of mystery and academic squabbling, main courses of exploration and disaster, desserts of punishment and exile, suppers of dismay and delight — demands a certain fidelity to recognition of our collective makeup: the ways in which we aid, ignore, or obstruct one another; the ways in which we open or close ourselves to nobility or truth or justice or mercy; the ways in which we augment or sap our world or merely our nearest and dearest.


With the cast’s almost uniformly fine acting, near-perfect diction, and perfect timing and staging, this superb production not only met Arcadia’s demands with truthfulness to spare; it was meticulous in every aspect, from costumes and props to lighting and audio.  Despite sometimes complex timing, few were the lines that tripped over themselves in their haste.


This is a rich, memorable, greatly enjoyable production; your life will be the poorer if you miss it.


John P. Harvey


Image: [L–R] Matthew Barton, Helen McFarlane, Colin Milner, and David Kavanagh, in Arcadia.

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