Ah, the English country garden. That haven of safe, traditional values and leisurely old-time pursuits. No? Not according to Arcadia,Tom Stoppard’s masterful play. The garden in question is that of a house named Sidley Park and in 1810 it is not only being dug up and modernised, but is the site of dangerous liaisons and even more dangerous duels. Also telling the story of the present-day academics researching the house, Arcadia is an intriguing play and, while Close Up Theatre don’t do anything sparkling or innovative with it, their production is certainly enjoyable to watch.This show is lovely to look at. The set, all continental armchairs and classical pillars, is delightfully successful in evoking the country-house aesthetic and the costumes are appropriately period or modern-day posh. Unfortunately, the show is let down by less-than-profession tech, with unnecessary blackout, loud and crackly recordings of grouse squawking and the cold light of dawn turned UFO blue.
Luckily, the acting is stronger. In the present-day sections particularly, it is convincing and naturalistic. Special mentions should go to Elizabeth Sharpe’s dignified Hannah Jarvis and James Leich’s Valentine Coverley, who is somehow both a Sloaney aristocrat and a sincere mathematician. The 1810 sections, though still strong, sometimes fall prey to a declamatory style, the actors brandishing their one-liners with a little too much relish. This can make it all the more noticeable at those few moments when the actors stumble over words or fluff their lines. Mostly, however, the illusion is maintained and the acting quality is high enough to make you invest in both the characters and the story.
This isn’t an extraordinary production. It’s not the thing you’re going to come home from the Fringe and rave about, because it’s not a production that goes out on a limb and experiments with theatre. It’s safe, sticking to a script and style that are fairly familiar. Yet even if you’re not going to be wowed, it’s equally certain you’re not going to be disappointed. Close Up Theatre’s show is solid and high-quality enough to make sure of that.