“Thomasina: Septimus, what is carnal embrace?”
Septimus: Carnal embrace is the practice of throwing ones arms around a side of beef.
Thomasina: Is that all?
Septimus: No… a shoulder of mutton, a haunch of venison well hugged, an embrace of grouse”
Thomasina: …Is canal embrace kissing?
Thomasina: I thought as much. I hope you are ashamed…if you do not teach me the true meaning of things, who will?”
Septimus Ah. Yes, I am ashamed. Carnal embrace is sexual congress, which is the insertion of the male genital organ into the female genital organ for purposes of procreation and pleasure. Fermat’s theorem, by contrast, asserts that when x, y and z are the whole numbers each raised to the power of n, the sum of the first two can never equal the third when n is greater than 2.
Septimus Nevertheless, that is the theorem.”
It is 1809 and thirteen year old Thomasina Coverly has been assigned Fermat’s last theorem, as yet unproved by the finest minds in the world, by her tutor Septimus Hodge. She is a dynamic child, ‘the genius of the place’ as Hannah Jarvis describes her in the same room 180 years later. But great changes are taking place and what is to happen over the coming weeks will continue to enthral and perplex historians through to the modern day.
Arcadia is a play of great wit and grand ideas, revolving around the quest to uncover the scandal that is said to have taken place when Lord Byron visited Sidley Park shortly before he fled abroad. But can the truth ever compete with the vivid imagination of the investigating historian?
With dark humour and irony the plot flicks back and forth between the centuries as fantastically rounded characters search to uncover hidden truths, both about the past and their own age. Themes of free will and determination interchange with mathematical and scientific theory, and the disruptive influence of sex on the orbit of our lives – “the attraction which Newton left out.”
Few works have ever exercised my brain so completely; this is a thoroughly original and reverting play which will keep you guessing until the end and when you finally realise what is about to happen it is all you can do not to jump from the audience and run on to stage to prevent the inevitable climax.
Put simply I have no idea how Stoppard was able to realise such a complex plot so fantastically. If ever a play had everything then this is it. You will laugh loud and hard, you brain will reel from the onslaught of grand ideas and, in the end, you will be unable to fight off the tears for the tragic irony of history. For as a cup of tea cools to room temperature if left alone, so history can only go in one direction, never again to be fully recreated.
Arcadia is the pinnacle of Tom Stoppard’s glittering career. I do not know the superlatives to say more.
9 out of 10