steepholm (steepholm) wrote,

Mandelbrot in Arcadia

I enjoyed watching Arcadia the other day. Like so many of Stoppard's plays it benefits from being seen as well as read, and this was a good production. At the same time - and this is a criticism of neither play nor performance - it seemed that the play didn't leave those involved much room for manoeuvre. I suppose I've not watched many modern plays in recent years, but compared with, say, Shakespeare (my more usual fare) I couldn't help but feel the text boxing in the actors and director quite confiningly. Most obviously in the case of Arcadia this relates to period: no director is going to "refresh" that play by setting it in ancient Rome or 1930s Chicago, given the nature of the text's relationship with specific times in history. And no doubt that's a good thing, but still - is there a corresponding loss? In some ways I feel stupid even raising the question: after all, Arcadia is firmly locked into its two historical periods: the coming of the picturesque style in the early 1800s, the craze for chaos theory a couple of centuries (give or take) later. Who would want to set it in other periods? But then, isn't Julius Caesar equally locked into the first century BCE by virtue of the events it portrays? Of course, Julius Caesar might be said to deal with universal themes such as ambition that can be transferred happily to other situations; but Arcadia's themes are no less universal: what could be more universal than the heat death of the universe, after all? We can of course explain it by noting that there was "a profound change in historical sensibility" between Shakespeare's time and Stoppard's, but sometimes I feel as if we have lost by the bargain.

The other thing that comes to mind is stage directions. Stoppard's are long and detailed, and this has been the fashion for quite a long time (some of Shaw's are mini-essays). I'm not sure who started the practice, but while I see their appeal for readers and to an extent for directors too these directions necessarily (if respected) constrain the freedom of any production to explore and generally mess around with a text. Of course there exist modern dramatic traditions that build in a certain ludic largesse, with opportunities for ad lib and so on, but Stoppard's text is quite fussy in its cleverness and wouldn't work if it weren't. I don't have much of an ear for dialogue, but if I ever wrought a play I think I'd rather leave its top three buttons undone.

In other news - I learn that there is a petition to name a nebula after Madoka. I signed, of course.
Tags: books, real life
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