Tag Archives: Ed Stoppard

“A Separate Peace”from Remote Read

Welcome as the recorded shows helping theatre-lovers on lockdown are, a live stream is a lot closer to what we really love. It’s exciting even to wait for something to happen, let alone watch in real time.  Albeit a brief half hour show, labelled a reading rather than a performance, this offering from the Remote Read project is warmly welcome.

The choice of Tom Stoppard’s short, from 1964, shows itself as appropriate to our current situation gradually – it’s about a man who wants to do nothing. Arriving at the “A1” Beachwood Nursing Home, willing to pay to stay, Mr Brown wants “privacy and clean linen” in his search for a safe space. Stoppard develops a mystery, then a romance, and his patient with patience intrigues throughout.

There’s a lot of talent – working remotely, remember – to bring out the best in the piece. Director Sam Yates has done an excellent job with a starry cast. David Morrissey takes the lead as the “likeable” Brown, bringing out a lovely humour with suitably gnomic remarks working hard. Denise Gough introduces considerable tension as a Doctor trying to work out what is going on, with Ed Stoppard as the vaguely exasperated Matron. A subtle love interest with young nurse Maggie, played by Jenna Coleman, is made tender and touching. Coleman and Morrissey build up a great sense of togetherness – all the more remarkable when you remember they aren’t in the same room.

It is still hard to forget this is a Zoom meeting, no matter how different it is from one you’d have for work. Performing against a white background isn’t without problems, and I’d like to know if the number of screens viewers are shown can be controlled better. But these are mere technical glitches, and the storytelling in the show undoubtedly works. Behind the questions of Brown being “a crook or a lunatic”, which Yates allows to be explored so well, he is a challenging figure. Stoppard leaves open suggestions of background trauma, such that his character retains an air of enigma. Brown’s search for peace makes him something of a mystery, and hugely suited to puzzling over under imposed isolation. 

www.theremoteread.com

“Arcadia” at the Duke of York’s Theatre

If there is one thing in the theatre world everyone can agree on, it is that Tom Stoppard is clever. He knows a lot about a lot and is good at explaining complicated things that leave the rest of us baffled.
The subject matter of Arcadia is a case in point – a heady brew of landscape gardening, literary studies and physics, played out in one room with alternate acts set in the 18th century and modern times. A rich mix, indeed, and one that potentially overwhelms.

The cleverest thing about Stoppard is that he manages to get the audience not just understanding these subjects but also caring and laughing about them.

Credit goes to the cast. Dan Stevens plays the charismatic tutor Septimus Hodge . His role is to explain 18th-century arts and science to both the audience and his prodigious pupil Thomasina Coverly . A painful desire for his mistress Lady Croom is complicated by a touching flirtation with his pupil, and he conveys not just a passion for his studies but also a great sexual presence. Both women, Jessica Cave and Nancy Carroll respectively, present their characters with fitting complexity and make the most of Stoppard’s wonderful ear for period language to great comic effect.

In the present day, the explaining is done by mathematics student Valentine (Ed Stoppard). His brooding presence is so intense as to be unlikeable, and his irritation over the supposed simplicity of iterated algorithms sounds false. This time, explication is for the benefit of the audience and Samantha Bond ’s historian, whose performance becomes inexplicably shrill.

The love triangle in modern times is completed by rival academic Bernard Nightingale , a morally distasteful character portrayed by Neil Pearson, who has surely paid far too much attention to one textual reference about his bouncing around.

Through science and art these two worlds come together. Thomasina’s brilliance foresees the great mathematical discoveries Valentine is working on. Both historians retrace events concerning the earlier set of characters.

But, despite its humour, Arcadia is a melancholy work with a gentle sense of tragedy. The mathematics aren’t understood in the 18th century – with disastrous consequences. Both historians are blinded by their ambition for either professional advancement or to prove an ideological point and make mistakes about what really happened in the past. Attempts to created a paradise garden on earth or to explain that earth with a grand Theory of Everything are inevitably doomed to failure .


Despite all the laughs, destruction seems to be the only outcome of our investigations. What hold us are those brief moments of joy along the way – the journey through Arcadia rather than the place itself.

Until 12 September 2009

Photo by Catherine Ashmore

Written 8 June 2009 for The London Magazine