WRITTEN BY: Tom Stoppard
DIRECTED BY: Kate Cherry
STARRING: Andrew McFarlane, Kirsty Hillhouse, Scott Sheridan, Whitney Richards
RATING: 3 stars

How do you blend mathematics, science, literature and history successfully in a play? Through witty dialogue, comedy and mystery. At least, that's what Tom Stoppard has done with his 1993 play Arcadia - and it works. At almost three hours in length, Arcadia is perhaps a little too long, but it is entertaining and beautifully performed.

Arcadia is set in the English countryside in the 1800s and the present day. The play juxtaposes the activities of two modern-day scholars and the house's residents against the lives of those who lived there 200 years earlier. In the 1800s scenes, audiences are introduced to teenager Thomasina Coverly (Whitney Richards) who has a very advanced understanding of mathematics. She studies with her tutor Septimus Hodge (Scott Sheridan) who is a friend of famous poet Lord Byron. In the present day, a writer named Hannah Jarvis (Kirsty Hillhouse) is investigating a hermit who once lived on the grounds while a literary academic named Bernard Nightingale (Andrew McFarlane) is investigating a mystery surrounding Lord Byron. As their investigations unfold, the truth about what happened 200 years ago is revealed.

The play is complex and intriguing, with smart dialogue and comedy to balance out the drama and mystery surrounding the plot. It also draws on several themes including mathematics, physics, literature, landscape design, classicism versus romanticism, order versus chaos, poetry, botany… its almost easier to list what it doesn't discuss. What the play does very successfully is present complex ideas in a simple way that stimulate thought, all while the characters try to piece together the details.

The set design is simple, yet effective. The two eras share the same setting, which includes a large table and several props. The two periods even blend during some scenes. The performances are also impressive in this production. The dialogue alone is difficult to master at times and yet everyone is on the ball. Led by popular Australian actor McFarlane and Black Swan State Theatre Company regular Hillhouse, the actors play off each other very well. Sheridan as naughty teacher Septimus Hodge is a stand out while Adriane Daff provides several laughs as the flirty Chloe Coverly.

Arcadia is being performed by the Black Swan State Theatre Company at the Heath Ledger Theatre in the State Theatre Centre until April 1.

Caption: Rebecca Davis, Whitney Richards and Andrew McFarlane. Image by Robert Frith.