Arcadia, by Tom Stoppard, directed by David Leveaux

Brains at the boiling point. Critics mostly ate up the revival of Tom Stoppard’s 1993 puzzle comedy, Arcadia, with a spoon. So why on leaving the theatre did I find not a single idea revolving in my mind? Arcadia is stuffed with ideas—about chaos theory, literary ambition, Newton’s impact on physics, and much more—which whiz by like packed cars on the Piccadilly line. “Maybe they’re more thought-provoking,” my companion mused, “if you haven’t thought them before.” She was pointing to the relatively shallow level of discourse on stage. Half a dozen characters who pass for brilliant, or at least A-levels bright, are set in motion to produce talky-talk about deep subjects. But as one character observes tartly, a retort isn’t the same thing as an answer. And repartee is the opposite of revelation. which gives Arcadia, for all its manic verbiage, an air of chilliness. With tongues as pointed as épées, these people are ever on the retort, but their answers remain at the level of flash.

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