Introduction to the Play

The gardens at Sidley Park are being transformed from their eighteenth century symmetrical style into the newly fashionable 'picturesque' style of the early nineteenth century, a romantic wild landscape of irregular trees and jagged rocks.
"...English landscape was invented by gardeners imitating foreign painters who were evoking classical authors. The whole thing was brought home in the luggage from the Grand Tour."
The transformation of the garden is mirrored in a transformation of science occuring through the development of thermodynamics, which is alluded to throughout the play. The elegantly ordered perpetual universe of Isaac Newton is being challenged by the discoveries of Carnot in France, which ultimately suggest the universe is running down into disorder. It is a transformation that requires present day concepts and techniques to reveal it fully: the science of fractals, miraculously anticipated by Thomasina in 1809, must wait until the advent of computers before her genius can be revealed. The new theories of chaos, studied by a later family member, Valentine, seem to suggest a new approach to understanding.
"It makes me so happy. To be at the beginning again, knowing almost nothing...a door like this has cracked open five or six times since we got up on our hind legs. Its the best possible time to be alive..."
However, not all share his vision. Bernard Nightingale, an impossibly conceited academic, is researching Byron at Sidley Park. He has no time for science:
"A great poet is always timely. A great philosopher is an urgent need. There's no rush for Isaac Newton. We were quite happy with Aristotle's cosmos. Personally, I preferred it. Fifty-five crystal spheres geared to God's crankshaft is my idea of a satisfying universe."

Through his play, Stoppard succeeds in merging science with human concerns and ideals. He leaves us with the view that if the universe is an apparently doomed machine, then whilst we are alive, we might as well dance.

Notes on the Original London Production

ARCADIA was first produced on the Lyttleton stage at the National Theatre on the 13 April 1993.

It was directed by Trevor Nunn. Felicity Kendal played Hannah Jarvis and Bill Nighy played Bernard Nightingale. Rufus Sewell played Septimus Hodge.

It received excellent reviews. The Sunday Times said:

This is a brilliant, brilliant play. A play of ideas, of consummate theatricality, of sophisticated entertainment and of heartache for a time never to be regained.

The Daily Telegraph said:

I have never left a play more convinced that I'd just witnessed a masterpiece.

It transferred to Haymarket Theatre where it ran until 1995 with two casts.

There have also been professional performances at the Lincoln Centre, New York and at the Arena Stage, Washington D.C.

In 1998 there was a semi-professional open-air production at Stowe School.

Further References

  • Review by Anne Barton in The New York Review of Books, 8 June 1995
  • Review by Benedict Nightingale in The Times 15 April 1993
  • Interview with Stoppard, Independent on Sunday 28 March 1993
  • Review in Scientific American by Tim Beardsley, July 1997
  • Article: Why Stoppard called his play Arcadia by Francis Gregory, The English Review

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