“It’s the wanting to know that makes us matter”
Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia was an unexpected pleasure for me when I first saw it in the summer of 2009 at the Duke of York’s Theatre: I booked not knowing anything about it, easily seduced by the luxury casting, but was blown away by a play of unexpected intelligence and feeling, something of a rarity in the commercial West End. So when it was announced that as part of their final year showcases, LAMDA students were putting on four shows – free of charge – at the Lyric Hammersmith, one of which was Arcadia, the chance to revisit a good play and potentially spot some stars of the future could not be resisted by a [insert correct collective noun for a group of Twitter theatre nerds] of us: I’ve opted to restrict myself to a few remarks rather than an all-out review.
Predictably this production came nowhere near the dizzy heights of the West End production, it was never likely to to be honest, but it did seem a curious choice as a play for showcasing as it didn’t seem like a natural fit for the talent here – too many cases of square pegs being asked to fit round holes especially in trying to portray a wide range of ages from a single cohort. Some of the actors were able to rise above their miscasting to still deliver strong performances but others fell short, unable to convince of the age they were trying to play, mainly through failing to extend their performances right down to the physicality of the characters. Likewise some of the humour of Stoppard’s writing got lost in the delivery and so this Arcadia never really caught fire, never enraptured me to the point where I forgot I was watching a student performance as I have previously done.
Performing in front of wider audiences is instrumental for drama students in making the leap from the theoretical to the practical, the same that accompanies any job really: learning how to deal with an (even if only partly) unfamiliar audience and their responses to the play, especially with any comedy, is just as important a part of the learning curve as presenting a dramatically true performance and this is the best (only) way to gain this experience. In a tough world, it takes an indefinable combination of talent, sheer hard graft and a dollop of luck to make it, but graduating from LAMDA will set these actors up well and it will be interesting to see if we’re talking about any of them in the future.