McAulay Theatre, HK Arts Centre
Reviewed: May 9, 2.30pm
This award-winning Tom Stoppard play can be confusing, especially if it isn't done well. The plot unravels in two different periods, 180 years apart, and the dialogue that makes up the clues is so fast and furious any brief lapse in attention is like missing an important piece of an elaborate jigsaw.
The two-act play opens in 1809 at Sidley Park, an old English estate where the first set of characters is introduced, including a young girl named Thomasina Coverly (Camille Ahern) and her tutor Septimus Hodge (James Smith). English poet Lord Bryon (an unseen house guest) is the source of a couple of mysteries in the drama.
Scene two is set in 1989 when writer Hannah Jarvis (Suzanne Miao) and Bernard Nightingale (Adam Harris) - a professor of literature - are researching their respective subjects: the identity of a hermit who once lived on the grounds and a mysterious chapter in Byron's life. The play switches between the two stories until they eventually become one.
Under the direction of Andy Burt, the cast guided the audience through two sets of narrative with strong performances.
Smith was believable as the articulate, womanising Septimus; Ahern handled Thomasina's sexual awakening with emotional intensity while Miao and Harris (below) built up the tension between the rational Hannah and foppish Bernard with sharp sarcasm and humour. Emily Stride, Ed Rowe, Suzy Sampson, Henry Coombs, Ian Pratley, Max Brashear, Paul Gordon and Andrew Mole all added colour in their supporting roles.
Arcadia is Stoppard's philosophical musing on the conflicts between chaos and order - feelings and intellect - but Burt focused on good storytelling and kept the drama engaging right up to its poignant end.