Arcadia, by Tom Stoppard | Directed by Richard Cottrell

Sydney Theatre Company (https://www.sydneytheatre.com.au) | Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House | Until 2 April

Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia comes with so many accolades that it’s difficult to know where to start describing it. I guess if you had to do it justice in a word, then ‘cerebral’ would come close.

It has been described as the finest play from one of the most significant contemporary playwrights in the English language, and in 2006 the Royal Institution of Great Britain named it one of the best science-related works ever written.

It certainly sets the grey matter tingling as it jumps seamlessly between the early 1800s and the late 20th century, when it was written, jousting with diverse concepts such as determinism, chaos theory, the second law of thermodynamics, Newtonian physics, Fermat’s last theorem and the perfect way to landscape a country garden.

Throw in an aged tortoise, the possibility of a hermit and the proposition that leading Romantic-era poet Lord Byron killed another poet, Ezra Chater, in a lust-driven duel, and Stoppard has woven an enticing and intricate web indeed within the confines of Sidley Park, a Derbyshire country house beautifully rendered on stage by set designer Michael Scott-Mitchell.

It is the sort of play that can really only be done justice on the big stage, and with the sort of fanfare that Sydney Theatre Company excels at providing.

Director Richard Cottrell has assembled a very talented line-up — Blazey Best, Ryan Corr, Honey Debelle, Andrea Demetriades, Jonathan Elsom, Georgia Flood, Julian Garner, Glenn Hazeldine, Josh McConville, Will McDonald, Michael Sheasby and Justin Smith — and they do Stoppard’s words proud.

Picking stars out of such a line up is preposterously difficult, but my vote would go to Josh McConville as Bernard Nightingale, a modern-period university don investigating the possibility that Lord Byron had killed Chater.

I first came across McConville in Sydney Theatre Company’s Noises Off nearly two years ago and was mightily impressed. He has lost none of his spark.

To even start to tell such a complex tale here would inevitably do it a thoroughly undeserved injustice. Better to read the Wikipedia summation [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arcadia_(play)]. And, obviously better still, do go and see this theatrical gem in the flesh. Most definitely, thumbs up.

Above: Georgia Flood and Ryan Corr. All images: Heidrun Löhr.

Ryan Corr.

Georgia Flood.

Josh McConville and Andrea Demetriades.

Will McDonald and Michael Sheasby.