Gardening and chaos theory do not conjure up images of the perfect play, but they sit side by side in a tale cited as one of the greatest of the last 50 years.

If I'm honest I was a little bit confused when I first agreed to see Arcadia.

Searching high and low I attempted to find some sort of simple plot synopsis so my brother - who was going with me - would have some idea of what to expect.

I came up with nothing, nada, zilch.

It seems that Stoppard’s modern classic was impossible to convey in a concise few lines.

Now, having seen it, I can understand why.

Modern playwrights do not come much better than Tom Stoppard.

He grapples with the big issues, throws in some high brow intellect and tussles with your brain until you are left someway between educated and rather muddled.

Arcadia is no new piece of work, it was first penned in 1993 and has been revived by the English Touring Theatre.

It started its tour in Brighton before covering the country - including Aylesbury Waterside Theatre this week.


The play begins in 1809 at Sidley Park, Derbyshire, with Thomasina Coerly, played by Dakota Blue Richards - from Skins and the Golden Compass.

Thomasina is being taught by her tutor Septimus Hodge, we soon discover she’s far cleverer than your average child.

Running alongside the inquiring Thomasina’s tale we are throw forwards into the present.

This is a story of love affairs, secrets, rivalries all set in the same country house.

We remain in the same set, flitting back between present and past.

The simple opening of a door throws us forward centuries.

In the present day we meet Hannah (Flora Montgomery) who is rudely interrupted by fellow scholar Bernard Nightingale (Robert Cavanah) who has turned up in the hope of finding something in the house’s records.

He believes Lord Byron, yes that Byron, is linked to the history of the house which could have huge ramifications.

And so it goes. Past is pitted against present. Intellect against romance.

Side by side both stories unravel, seemingly unrelated until you realise in his genius Stoppard has them interwoven.

Flora Montgomery as Hannah and Robert Cavanah as Bernard in Arcadia

It would not do the play justice to detail each thread, but here gardening sits by chaos theory - and whether you understand that or not it does not matter.

It’s a play to make you think, but it has a heart too and that is what makes it work.

People may walk out huffing and puffing because they think it’s too clever, but then they have missed the point.

My brother turned to me in the second half saying he felt he was “learning things”, whereas the ladies to my right were caught up in a tale of romance.

The common thing between them and my brother was neither raked over the synopsis before, neither strained their brains trying to solve the puzzle Arcadia presents.

Valentine loses it in Arcadia

The only gripe I had was as the first line was delivered by Thomasina (Blue Richards) her voice didn't carry - a problem when a TV or film star comes to the stage.

This was fixed as the play went on, and the benefit of the Waterside is that it follows the run in Brighton where such little things can be ironed out.

In terms of acting, the witty lines are well delivered by the cast, so much so I was itching to write them down to use later. My favourite by far though is Fiona as Hannah who has the best line of the play: "It's the wanting to know that matters."

It's the motto of the play and one that is well applied when considering whether to see it.

There is something for everyone here, it’s how you approach it.

Take from that what you will.

Arcadia is on until the end of the week, Saturday March 7, at 7.30pm every evening plus Saturday at 2.30pm.

For tickets see

Watch Jo-Anne Rowney's interview with the cast

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