Oxford's oldest student newspaper

Independent since 1920

Review: Maud

As his audience enter the Burton Taylor Studio, Johnny Lucas sits barefoot, head down, on a chair on the small stage. His presence is demanding, though he sits still and quiet until the room has settled, and until he can begin his dramatic narrative.

Alfred Lord Tennyson’s 1855 poem Maud is a complex one to say out loud. Its cross rhythms make for a troubled oration; in other sections its song-like structure means that words elide into one another in an almost incomprehensible manner. It is with this in mind that Lucas’ fortitude must be respected: this one-actor show is hugely challenging, yet there is no stumbling over words or mishaps with his tightly-crafted emotive monologue.

The intelligence in this production comes from the dramatic awareness of the differences in ambience between each section of Tennyson’s verse. As the protagonist mourns his lost lover, Maud, he exploits the idea of grief in expressing all the stages of torment that come along with it – hallucinatory madness, hollowness, and utter sadness. The nuance with which Lucas brings out each of these variations of what could be a simply “depressing” tale reflects his acute awareness of Tennyson’s language of mourning.

The promotion for this production which has been adapted by student Tabitha Hayward, tells of a performance which “blends poetry with photography and film to guide you through a mind tormented by love and guilt.”  But I’m not so sure of any “blend”, and not by means of criticism. Rather than a softened array of media, the film footage which plays intermittently on a screen at the back of the stage works only to make stark Lucas’ lines.

It is the juxtaposition of haunting shots of Maud – first as a hazy silhouette and then suddenly close-up, standing “in the high Hall-garden” – set behind the protagonist’s body and bare stage, that is so powerful. The exquisite timings of the playback of video, to coalesce with, or often prove startling against, Lucas’ monologue serve only to strengthen the precise timings of this performance.

This torment of having Maud linger behind, somewhere in the distance but far from us, is excruciating. Our nameless protagonist is so haunted by Maud – Maud, who is ever so “perfectly beautiful … where is the fault? … faultily faultless.” Lucas says these lines as he moves to the projection of Maud on the back wall, reaching out to stroke her yet only touching a blank space, where no human resides. The use of multi-media here, for of course Maud will only ever be a hologram, a fixation of pixels projected into a void, accentuates the boundary between life and death that the protagonist attempts to envelop.

Of course, as soon as he reaches out to touch his love, her image disappears, and the protagonist must face the intangibility of his love, an intangibility that film and the live spoken word perfectly express.

Check out our other content

Most Popular Articles