Amongst the music posters and religious jargon plastering ANU’s concrete pillars towards the end of last semester, a poster depicting a classical painting of ponderous men in togas began to appear. Those who were lured in by this puzzling paper trail to The National University Theatre Society or NUTS’s first production of the year were in for a treat.
Accompanied by bewildering program notes that made much more sense as an epilogue to the play than as its prologue, Arcadia by Tom Stoppard was NUTS member Vincent Chiang’s first foray into directing the company. The choice of Arcadia was an inspired one. It is a brilliant play that switches fluidly between the present day and 1809 and for those who had never seen it, the text alone could have made the experience worthwhile. Its themes of philosophy, mathematics, the scientific method, academia and sex are enough to entice anyone engaged in academic pursuits and completely indulge the tastes of NUTS’s regular audience members.
The play is intelligent and emotionally-candid and was performed as such. Elizabeth Koschel was charming as the precocious Thomasina Coverly and Dylan Van Den Berg’s comic moments as Septimus Hodge were excellent. Steph Routely was delightful as the sparkly-eyed Chole Coverly and Caitlin Overton and Dean Batten gripped the audience with their passion for differing areas of academia in their earnest portrayal of Hannah Jarvis and Valentine Coverly.
The standout performance of at least the contemporary component of the play was delivered by Tim Boston, whose portrayal of the larger-than-life figure of the alternatively callously arrogant and endearingly excited Bernard Nightingale was at times confronting and completely entertaining.
All of the cast and production team deserve mentions for their contributions to this challenging play that shifted time periods with ease and abounded with well-executed comedy and emotionally genuine performances.
The play is by no means a masterpiece. Its ending was at times painfully laboured and the small stage of the Drama Lab, while predominately a pleasingly intimate setting, felt claustrophobic in the busier scenes. Certain failings must, however, be forgiven for student productions. Arcadia’s brilliant text was on the whole skilfully handled and from five dollars a tickets, like all NUTS productions, it was completely worth it.