It's hard to explain what Tom Stoppard's Arcadia is actually about, but in Fox Tale Production's staging, their posters used the tagline of 'Sex. Pigeons. Literature.' And really, that's shockingly accurate. But they also could have used science, hope, and gazebos as descriptions and it wouldn't be wrong either.
The play, written in 1993, is set in a country house in Derbyshire and set in 1809 and present day and concerns, amazingly enough, Lord Byron who is staying in the home at the time and the tutor Septimus. In present day, a writer Hannah is investigating a hermit who lived on the grounds and a professor Bernard is theorising about Byron's potential duel that may have killed someone. It's an incredibly heady play that ends up questioning what really matters in the world and in the quest for knowledge.
The story straddles the line between a comedy and a tragedy, with some truly hilarious moments, in many cases from Oliver Skan's energetically nerdy Bernard Nightengale. Skan's conviction while running about the stage in a fervour was a delight to watch. Contrasted with his rival, the brilliantly reserved Imo Reeve-Tucker, the two were oozing with chemistry. Adding in the comic relief of Amelia Gabriel's Chloe and her older brother Valentine played by a fantastic Rory Fraser are just some of truly one of a truly sublime ensemble.
But a truly special mention needs to be made about the engrossing performance from Rory Grant as the charismatic Septimus. He was in complete command of his character to an almost uncanny extent, almost giving a master class on acting through little moments often away from the scene. And his battle between flirtation and resisting the subtle advances of the prodigious Thomasina, played Tallulah Vaughan, who's alternating portrayal of untapped genius and innocence created a great rapport between the characters that carries the play.
The costuming absolutely was spot on, particularly during the 19th century scenes. And the direction under Issy Fidderman and Surya Bowyer brought the difficult script together with a very heartfelt ending.
There are lots of student productions in Oxford but Arcadia is truly among the strongest, to the point that you would think they were professionals. After filling the O'Reilly Theatre at Keble College the first night, the play proved that even amongst all of the chaos in the script and our own history, things have a way of falling into place.