Arcadia (Theatre Royal, Brighton)

It doesn’t seem that long ago since we were watching Tom Stoppard on countless TV talk shows discussing health and medicine alongside Magnus Pyke and David Bellamy.

Nowadays he is much better known as a playwright, though I wouldn’t have minded going to see him talking about health matters as I had a nasty cold and had to suck on several Fishermen’s Friends during the performance.

Arcadia is a joint production by English Touring Theatre and Theatre Royal Brighton that often went over my head. Written in 1993, the central character is a tortoise called Plautus, who doesn’t have any lines but is clearly really important to the plot, which switches from a period when men wore breeches (so a little before Downton Abbey) to one where they use laptops.

There were national theatre critics in the audience on the first night and they were wetting themselves with excitement about how good the production was. That’s all very well for those who go to see shows at the National Theatre and in the West End every five minutes, but it’s a bit different for us in the provinces who are more used to seeing the likes of Robert Powell (who played Jesus on TV) in Black Coffee and other things where you don’t need a Masters degree to understand the lines.

However, there was some good acting, which helped to make up for a lot of the things that were difficult to understand. The actor playing Septimus, the tutor to a 13-year-old in the 19th Century, looked very like the chap who plays the father in Broadchurch but it obviously wasn’t him as I kept calling out his name and he ignored me.  If the chap who plays the father in Broadchurch should meet with an unfortunate accident before they film series three they should really have him in it because I think he would be very good and nobody would know.

Playing Thomasina is Dakota Blue Richards (best known for appearing in that E4 drama about young people smoking) and she is really good, especially when she has to wear a nightdress, which is something very few young actresses could pull off well.  

Robert Cavanah (who I seem to remember was in Emmerdale Farm) played a present-day professor who was really into Lord Byron and I think it was his fault that Thomasina had to wear a nightdress. He shouted quite a lot at Flora Montgomery, who played an academic who really liked Lady Caroline Lamb, so both professors had a lot in common even though they disagreed a lot. I understand she is related to Field Marshal Montgomery, which explains why she kept drawing up plans to attack Rommel.

For me, Arcadia was far too mathematical and scientific, and that was never something that interested me at school. If it had been about home economics or synchronised Jiu Jitsu it might have had more of an appeal for me.