Drama gets sums right
Arcadia - Library Theatre
But lighten the algebra,thermodynamics and iterated algorithms (yes really) with a witty,pacy comedy of morals and manners,romance and rivalry and the Library Theatre's got a real winner in Tom Stoppard's Arcadia.
|The play's split between 1809 and 1999.
In the historic part,tutor Septimus Hodge teaches maths to Thomasina,the ultrabright daughter of the house while carrying on romantic intrigues with both her mother and her house guest.
But when he's found out,the cuckolded husband - a failed poet - challenges him to a duel.
Fast forward to the 90s in the same country house and academics Hannah
Jarvis and Bernard Nightingale are tracking back to 1809 to
research the home's mysterious hermit and its links to
romantic poet Lord Byron respectively.
Arcadia is at the Library until November the 20th.
Stoppard's stars : Felicity Kendall,Bill Nighy,Harriet Walter
|Felicity Kendall's professional relationship with playwright Tom Stoppard
underwent a spectacular revival last year,with the opening of his latest
play "Arcadia" at London's National Theatre.
Skipping across the centuries and juggling complex ideas (Newtonian Physics and Chaos Theory) with Stoppard's typical brio,"Arcadia" was first on BBC radio over Christmas and is broadcast again this week (Sunday Radio3).
Alongside Kendall - who can currently be seen in "Honey for Tea" (Sunday BBC1),Arcadia features Bill Nighy and Harriet Walter reunited after their memorable pairing in "The Men's Room",and Sam West,son of Timothy.
Paul Goodwin as Antoine Lavoisier and Lucy Davenport as Mme Lavoisier in 'Oxygen'
OXYGEN RIVERSIDE STUDIOS LONDON
Plays about science are proliferating, with Michael Frayn, Tom Stoppard and
Stephen Poliakoff heading the pack of dramatists prepared to find inspiration
outside the comfort zone of the humanities. It's not every day though, you
get the chance to review a theatre piece co-authored by a Nobel chemistry
laureate and the man who invented the Pill.
This, though, is now the case with Oxygen, a collaboration between Roald Hoffman (who is also professor of humane letters at Cornell) and Carl Djerassi (who, in addition to synthesising the first oral contraceptive, and winning medals for novel approaches to insect control,is a published poet).
This year marks the centenary of the Nobel Prize. Receiving its English premiere now in Andy Jordan's strongly cast but slightly cramped production, the play kicks off from the idea that, to mark this occasion, the committee has decided to award "retro-Nobels" for great discoveries made before the inception of the prizes. In chemistry; the first of these is to go to the discoverer of oxygen. But should this post- dated laureateship go to the Swedish apothecary, Carl Wilhelm Scheele, or to English unitarian minister Joseph Priestley (who erected a false theory on his findings), or to the French chemist and tax collector, Antoine Lavoisier?
Which is the same as to ask: what constitutes "being first" - the initial physical discovery; pipping everyone else to the publishing post; or having the deepest understanding of the scientific implications? In a manner patented by Stoppard's Arcadia and Shelagh Stephenson's An Experiment with an Air Pump, the play shifts between present and past: here, between the deliberations of the committee and an imaginary meeting of the three protagonists in Stockholm in 1777, where they are shown vying for the King's Gold Medal.
The structure is ambitious, even incorporating the performance of a verse masque on "The Victory of Vital Air Over Phlogiston". The temporal oscillations and the doubling of the actors (with Paul Goodwin an especially convincing intellectual as Lavoisier/Hjalmarsson) allow the piece to demonstrate that it's plus ca change amongst scientists - a preoccupation with the priority continuing to divide the contemporary chemists. But there's a disappointing thinness of texture to the dispute here over whether the referee on a scientific journal postponed, with needless provisos, the publication of a paper while passing on its findings to a group of rival scientists.
Better playwrights have employed this to-and-fro structure for a more profound questioning of "progress" than one couched in narrowly professional terms, while, in Stoppard, it has even been used as the means of setting up an imaginative resistance to science's gloomy entropic predictions. Oxygen begins piquantly with the spouses of the three 18th- century boffins chatting in a Swedish sauna. But this is no Merry Wives of Stockholm. Its aim, rather; is to show how these clever women could go only so far and no further in participating in their husbands' work.
Through the clunking device of a contemporary PhD graduate who is amanuensis to the Nobel committee and author of a study of chemists' better halves, the play uncovers the deeply ambiguous yet, in the circumstances, understandable) way in which Lucy Davenport's superbly flirtatious and enigmatic Mme Lavoisier sought to assist her husband. Again, though, better dramatists have deployed the structure to show how the present is comically inclined to misinterpret the past. Here, the historical evidence would seem to be tricky but free from all dubieties. That's one of several indications that the primary impulse of this honourable and rather mechanical play is pedagogic.
PAUL TAYLOR To l Dec, 020-82371111