Friday, April 26, 2013



at the Rose, Bankside

Shakespeare's birthday [it's the big 4-5-0 next year, Will!] has been celebrated by the Globe, with its sell-out Sonnet Walks last Saturday, and now it's the turn of the older house, just inland, to perform verses to mark the day, in an entertainment directed by David Pearce.

Before the sonnets, two longer pieces.
The Lover's Complaint, often attributed to Shakespeare, in a performance version with Trevor Murphy as an agricultural artisan, with hoe, joined from across the water [nicely rippled by discarded "folded schedules"] by Francesca de Sica, who shares the narration. It's a lengthy tale of pursuit, seduction and desertion, but de Sica's natural delivery gives us a clear window into the verse's heart.
Then, a much more direct recitation of the metaphysical Phoenix and the Turtle, by Chris Paddon. As Shakespeare has it, "beauty, truth and rarity".
After a short break, the twelve sonneteers [outnumbering the punters now] bringing us an eclectic selection – by no means all sonnets – in performances ranging from the barely adequate to the richly dramatic. Many revelations in the Bankside bran tub, as well as some old favourites, though we never got the promised chance to choose for ourselves.
Among the latter, Ben Jonson's eulogy of the Swan of Avon, Donne's Sun Rising, Golden Slumbers [by Thomas Dekker, apparently] Shall I Compare Thee, and Marlowe's Come Live With Me.
And, among the former, Kit's erotic Ovid – "Jove, send me more such afternoons as this!" - a rare moment of real humour [Jonson's Giles and Joan, precursors of Coward's Bronxville couple], and a reminder of the sonnet's Italian origins with a lovely dual language 116.
The readings were introduced with, at least, title and author, whereas an "innocent ear" approach might have proved more intriguing, nowhere more than in the most moving of the pieces, Jonson's "On My First Son", which could easily have been WS on the untimely death of Hamnet …

Farewell, thou child of my right hand, and joy ;
    My sin was too much hope of thee, lov'd boy.
Seven years thou wert lent to me, and I thee pay,
    Exacted by thy fate, on the just day.
Oh, could I lose all father now ! For why
    Will man lament the state he should envy?
To have so soon 'scaped world's and flesh's rage,
    And if no other misery, yet age !
Rest in soft peace, and, asked, say, Here doth lie
    Ben Jonson his best piece of poetry.
For whose sake henceforth all his vows be such
    As what he loves may never like too much. 

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