The beginning of Michaelmas 2012 has been marked by dull skies and seemingly unending drizzle. So quite an evening is to be had watching Bloody Poetry, a play which brings the audience across the Alps and the centuries to Geneva, 1816, conjuring up both the tranquil shores of Lake Geneva and the heights of violently Gothic storms.
The play centres around four main characters who carry the majority of the action, making for a highly personal, character-driven play, and three of them are among the most famous names in English literature: Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Shelley, and Claire Clairmont, Mary’s stepsister. Following an incestuous summer that the four spend in Geneva, the play naturally swings between intimate expressions of emotion and declaimed contemplations of the nature of poetry.
In spanning both huge questions and intimate relationships, Bloody Poetry greatly depends upon the chemistry of the main actors; fortunately, each of the cast members in this production turn in solid performances. Arty Bolour Froushan is appropriately strident and seductive as Byron, and Claudia King brings depth to what could have been any lovestruck teenager in her Claire, hopelessly besotted with Byron. Amelia Sparling and Tim Schneider are both good as the Shelleys, filling out a foursome that really stands out in the chemistry they all share. Characters move about constantly, as if trying to run through all their possible permutations – movement which could seem arbitrary and distracting, but which comes off as natural, ultimately selling the hedonistic developments between the four of them all the more convincingly.
Jack Sain is also to be commended as Dr Polidori, Byron’s physician and diarist, measuring the wanton impropriety of the others through his own repression. His entrance, standing stiffly upright over Claire and the Shelleys entwined on the floor, is a particularly nice moment, as is the scene in which the four torment him while acting out Plato’s cave. In both cases, as throughout the portion of the play I saw, the blocking creates and emphasises focal points, the foursome paired up variously, all facing one direction.
These movements are swift and unforced, creating a nice sense of movement within the play, matching the dialogue’s intellectual crackle. I do wonder whether this leads to a sacrifice of dynamics: surely, in a play where the nature of art and love are under discussion, more could be made of moments of silence, if only to allow the audience to catch up? However, since I only saw rather momentous scenes, this could just be the peril of the preview. Ultimately, this production seems intriguing, and well worth a view.