Tuesday, July 15, 2008

There Reigns Love "Gold-Medal" Theatre

Richard Ouzounian (the Toronto Star) gives There Reigns Love 3.5 out of 4 stars:

"Forget about Beijing.

"The Olympics started here on Sunday night when Simon Callow gave a gold-medal display of acting skill in There Reigns Love, the theatre piece that he devised from the sonnets of William Shakespeare.

"This man has spent three decades of his life contemplating, inhabiting and performing Shakespeare's sonnets, but until now he has always done so behind the safety of a lectern with a copy of the text close at hand.

"On Sunday night, he tried something new and courageous.

"With the aid of director Michael Langham he offered us a full and complete theatrical production, aided by Michael J. Whitfield's subtle lighting, Charlotte Dean's simple yet elegant setting and Peter McBoyle's tastefully chosen pieces of musical punctuation.

"The work of psychoanalyst John Padel inspired the whole proceedings, with his bold theory that, if rearranged in the correct way, the sonnets tell the story of a terrible yet beautiful triangular relationship between Shakespeare, his mistress and the young man to whom the poems were dedicated.

"The one flaw in the whole enterprise is that Callow is so intent on our understanding everything that he spends far too much time filling in background and setting the scene while we are anxious for 'the thing itself': the poetry of Shakespeare and the genius of Callow.

"But once it starts rolling, there is no doubt of the validity of the enterprise or the gifts of the man presenting it.

"Sometimes four, or five or six sonnets follow each other uninterrupted and we ride with Callow on the wave of fierce emotion that ripped Shakespeare's life apart. At other moments, we share the deeply philosophical thoughts about love and mortality that these poems stirred up in the Bard of Avon.

"Except for one section in the second act when Callow seems to run too frantically up and down to the balcony while wooing his mistress, Langham has provided him just enough to lift this from a reading into a satisfying piece of theatre.

"I think the part I cherished the most deeply occurred early on, at the precise moment when Shakespeare allowed himself to become hopelessly smitten with the beautiful young William Herbert.

"Callow's enraptured performance doesn't suggest anything as trivial as sexual infatuation, but rather the total commitment of a man who has found someone he would gladly devote his life to.

"The tragedy of it all, alas, is that the pleasure of love lasts for one poem, while the agony of doubt and betrayal goes on for over a hundred more.

"Opening night was a touch ragged, the way an athlete striving for perfection can somehow get in his own way.

"He even stumbled over one of the most famous sonnets ('My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun') but instantly recovered with aplomb.

"Callow needs to learn how to make his own connecting narrative more engaging and less breathless, and how to pace some of the headier emotional sections with more variety, but all this will come in time. It's already worth your serious attention."

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