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Arcadia (Tour) - 'an undiluted pleasure to experience'

Theatre Royal Brighton Productions and English Touring Theatre revive Tom Stoppard's modern classic

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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Talented pupil: Dakota Blue Richards as Thomasina Coverly
© Mark Douet

With his intriguing new play, The Hard Problem, settled in to the National Theatre repertoire, it's a smart move by English Touring Theatre to launch a revival of Tom Stoppard's modern classic, Arcadia, which spans centuries, mingles scientific knowledge with romantic fiction and features a tortoise in a country house mystery.

Actually, the old play, just like the new one, is about levels of consciousness and skills of interpretation as 19th century bigwigs mix with their 20th century successors, making a sort of echo chamber of ideas and critical interpretation in terms of both classicism and romanticism: what is a carnal embrace - the practice of throwing one's arms around a side of beef? - how do we make sense of the chaos theory or the second law of thermodynamics, and why exactly has Lord Byron suddenly departed on the Lisbon packet?

Blanche McIntyre's cool and lucid production does not try and be cleverer than the play - how could it? - and looks very much like Trevor Nunn's original 1993 National Theatre production and indeed David Leveaux's superb West End revival five years ago: the same cream-coloured country house setting (designed by Jonathan Fensom), the same mingling of Second Empire and contemporary clothing, the same sort of light, quizzical acting.

Flora Montgomery is delightful as Hannah Jarvis (the role Stoppard wrote for Felicity Kendal) who is writing a history of this Sidley Park estate, and Kirsty Besterman doesn't miss a trick as the tartly analytical Lady Croom, while Robert Cavanah as the inquisitive poet Bernard Nightingale and Dakota Blue Richards as his talented pupil, Thomasina Coverly, are as good as any previous incarnations.

The plot points all work through, even though it remains tantalisingly impossible to draw any decisive conclusions as to the overall meaning of the play. It is still, line by line, an undiluted pleasure to experience, and it will certainly raise the game of its audiences around the country as the tour, co-produced with Theatre Royal Brighton Productions, an operating wing of ATG, takes off.

Arcadia is a Theatre Royal Brighton until 7 February before visiting Bath, Bromley, Woking, Aylesbury, Truro, Birmingham, Cambridge, Malvern and Oxford