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Arcadia (1994)


Sydney Theatre Company, Drama Theatre of the Sydney Opera House

Playwright: Tom Stoppard
Director: Gale Edwards

Linda Cropper … Hannah Jarvis
Hugo Weaving … Bernard Nightingale
Paul Goddard … Valentine
n/a … Septimus Hodge
n/a … Thomasina
n/a … Chloe
n/a … Lady Croom
n/a … Ezra Chater
n/a … Gus/Augustus
n/a … Jellaby
n/a … Richard Noakes
n/a … Captain Brice

Arcadia is set in an English country house, Sidley Park, with the action switching between characters in 1809 and 1989. It takes an acid look at academic research by juxtaposing the interpretations of modern historians with the clues they interpret, which we see being left by the inhabitants of the earlier time. Arcadia explores the nature of evidence and truth in the context of modern ideas of mathematics and physics.

The play questions the power of modernity and mocks the motives behind postmodernity, climaxing in one character’s spirited soliloquy defending the beauty and wholeness of Aristotle’s universe.
In 1809, daughter of the house Thomasina Coverly, a very precocious teenager with ideas about mathematics well ahead of her time, studies with her tutor, Septimus Hodge, a contemporary of Byron’s who has offended some visitors to the house over a matter of criticism. In 1989, two academics converge on the house: Hannah Jarvis, historian, who is investigating the hermit who lived on the grounds, and Bernard Nightingale, a professor of literature who arrives to unearth a secret chapter in the life of Byron. As their investigations unfold, helped by the research of resident and biologist Valentine Coverly, the truth about what happened in 1809 is gradually revealed.

[on Valentine] “Yes. I met him. Brideshead Regurgitated”

“The Byron gang are going to get their dicks caught in their zip…if we collaborate”

“A pencilled superscription. Listen and kiss my cycle-clips!…Christ, what do you want?”
Hannah: “Proof”
“Proof? Proof? You’d have to be there, you silly bitch!”

Valentine: “Are you talking about Lord Byron, the poet?”
“No you fucking idiot, we’re talking about Lord Byron the chartered accountant”

>[On his impending academic article coming]:”That comes later and in the recognized tone – very dry, very modest, absolutely gloat-free and yet unmistakably ‘eat your heart out, you dozy bastards’. But first it’s Media Don [university lecturer], book early to avoid disappointment”

Hannah: “Don’t call me darling”
“Dickhead then”

[To Valentine, a scientist]: “Quarks, quasars – big bangs, black holes – who gives a shit? How did you people con us out of all that status? All that money? And why are you so pleased with yourselves?”

>[To Hannah, after the nasty Art vs Science lynching]: “I’m sorry about that…it’s no fun when it’s not among pros, is it?”

“I spotted something between her legs that made me think of you”[followed by a sharp, stinging slap from Hannah]