Review: Bloody Poetry

It is always thrilling to venture into the hallowed halls of TFTV – tales of their grand venues and cutting-edge technology are legendary down on lowly main campus. This third year production of Howard Brenton’s Bloody Poetry certainly doesn’t disappoint. In a play with characters as large as Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley and the creator of Frankenstein, Mary Shelley herself, it would be easy to let your actors do all the work, but instead, the company very skilfully utilises all the material at their disposal to build on the cast’s excellent work and make the whole piece even stronger.

©Roisin Caird; Image credit: Roisin Caird

The set in particular was magnificent; all white drapes arranged almost like sails. It gave the impression that everything was taking place on some ethereal plane, which, given Percy Shelley’s rampant hallucinations and the fantastical, theoretical outlook of the characters generally, they might well be. The white backdrop also provided the perfect canvas onto which the technicians could project their awesome light show. It was very impressive; moody red for fire-lit parlour games with Byron, bright, almost bleaching white for seaside settings and a hugely dramatic water effect. The timings were spot on (aside from one random burst of violin strings just before the interval) and it was truly amazing how they could transform the bare set with these simple techniques.

In all of this wizardry, however, we must not forget the performances of the cast. Their interpretation of the characters was suitably breathless and emotional. As a young cast playing young characters, they were very good at portraying depth and experience, coupled with a youthful optimism. You could easily understand how the characters could dream so fantastically and so intensely. The chemistry between Rosie Field as Mary Shelley and Jonny Glasgow as Percy Shelley was particularly palpable, which, as the core relationship in the complex web of intimacies, it had to be.

Mary and Percy Shelley played by Rosie Field and Jonny Glasgow ©Roisin Caird; Image credit: Roisin Caird
Sean Richards, meanwhile, was a very convincing Byron – all arrogance and charm – which is no mean feat when you consider the dark poet’s towering reputation. Ruairidh Burras, whose sneering bitterness as John Polidori (Byron’s rather toadying biographer) left you with the dual feelings of sympathy and disgust, and Kat Ronson’s fascinating Harriet Shelley (Percy Shelley’s legal wife, whom he abandoned for Mary) also deserve their due. Kat Ronson essentially played two roles – Harriet as she was, and Harriet as Shelley imagined her – a challenge that she tackled through the use of changed accents and demeanour. However, whilst her altered behaviour was highly effective, the cockney accent was too thick for you to catch all the lines.

All in all, there was honestly very little to fault in this enchanting rendition of Brenton’s play. Sean Richards’ haircut and Lauren Burnett’s (who played Claire Clairmont) highlights were a little anachronistic, but the costuming and make-up more than compensated. The first half was absolutely unbeatable dramatically and when all’s said and done, we were treated to a really cracking piece of theatre.

The final performance of Bloody Poetry is tonight at 7:30pm in TFTV.

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