by Howard Brenton.
Jermyn Street Theatre 16b Jermyn Street SW1Y 6ST to 25 February.
Mon- Sat 7.30pm.
Runs 2hr 20min. One interval.
TICKETS: 0207 287 2875.
Review: William Russell 2 February.
A Dissolute Bunch.
Tom Littler has directed Howard Brenton’s 30-year old play about the undoubtedly (for the Establishment of the day) dangerous-to-know radicals, poets and all-round badly-behaved posh boys Byron and Shelley, in fine style. Jermyn Street’s stage has its limitations, but helped by a splendid set by Will Reynolds, which makes brilliantly imaginative us of back projections, they are overcome and this really is as good as it gets. Projections can often distract, these enhance, as does the use of sound.
Brenton wrote the play in the aftermath of Margaret Thatcher’s 1983 election landslide, to remind people that one of the greatest English poets was an atheist and revolutionary whose voice, in such times, needed to be heard. And celebrities are still pursued by those who disapprove of them in print – although they are no longer poets, and it is hard to think of who these dangerous radicals of today might be.
The action takes place between 1816 and 1822 when the poets, frowned upon back home, were racketing round Switzerland and Italy writing, letching and running up debts, and ends with Shelley’s death by drowning in the sea off La Spezia.
In a sense the play is about living life as you want, and to hell with the rest of the world. And if a few women – a lot of women, more than in the play – are casualties of what you do in living the dream, so be it. On the other hand, one woman at least, Mary Shelley, was as much a revolutionary as the men in her life.
It is a wordy, but engrossing evening, with David Sturzaker’s Byron a genuinely barnstorming, attention-holding performance as he takes whatever he wants regardless, male or female. Joe Bannister as Shelley has the less flashy role, but catches the narcissism beautifully, and Nick Trumble is truly creepy as the dubious William Polidori, hanger-on par excellence.
It is a well-acted evening all-round; all three women are very good as the victims of these rampant males. Littler would seem on the evidence of this production to be a director to watch out for.
Percy Bysshe Shelley: Joe Bannister.
Claire Clairemont: Joanna Christie.
Mary Shelley: Rhiannon Summers.
Lord Byron: David Sturzaker.
Dr William Polidori: Nick Trumble.
Harriet Westbrook: Emily Glenister.
Designer/Projections: Will Reynolds.
Lighting: Tim Mascall.
Sound: George Dennis.
Costume: Emily Stuart.