Saturday, 8 January 2011

Love is my Sin

I've just come in from Stratford, where I've been to The Swan to see Natasha Parry and Michael Pennington in Love is my Sin, a piece devised and directed by Parry's husband, Peter Brook, and based on a selection of Shakespeare's sonnets.

I'll write at some later point, perhaps, about what I think of the newly refurbished RSC theatre, especially as I haven't yet been into the reconstructed Main House. As far as I can see pretty much all they've done in The Swan is reupholster the seats. And thank goodness they haven't messed it about in anyway because as a space for live theatre it was pretty much perfect as it was.

Shakespeare's plays haven't yet made a reappearance in either the Main House or The Swan. Wisely, the management have chosen to stage a number of smaller events to get the theatres up and running and thereby give themselves a chance to iron out any teething problems. And, when they do introduce full length plays they will be productions moved over from last season's repertoire in The Courtyard rather than anything new.

So, what I've been to see today was a travelling show that took thirty-one of Shakespeare's sonnets and used them to create the story of a love affair between two people no longer in the prime of youth but still more than capable of all the intensity of feeling that goes with loving someone and for one reason or another being uncertain of the reciprocity of the emotion. I have to say that it was one of the most beautiful and touching pieces of theatre I've ever experienced.

The sonnets were split into four groups: Devouring Time, Separation, Jealousy and Time Defied. Brook says of his selection:

At first, Shakespeare evokes a shared tranquility, but little by little the pains of love appear: there is separation, then infidelity and treachery which lead to a disgust of the body and flesh. But in a final phase, Shakespeare affirms the reality of a love that can transcend all barriers that is even more powerful than age or death.

For love can conquer time.

For the most part, the sonnets selected were not the better known ones, but they led up to probably the most famous of them all, number 116,

Let me not to the marriage of true minds

Parry and Pennington are both brilliant actors, but even so I think the two facts that hit me most forcibly would have been apparent had that not been the case. The first was something that should perhaps have been obvious, namely that these texts were composed by a man who wrote for the voice and who wrote to tell a story. At no point did it appear that we were listening to poetry. These could all have been speeches being made one character to another in any of Shakespeare's plays.

The second feature that was brought home to me, even though, again, it was something I shouldn't have needed reinforcing, was how close iambic pentameter is to natural English speech patterns. If you hadn't been aware that on the page these words were laid out as fourteen lines of ten syllables each you would never have guessed. And this just makes the works all the more miraculous, because it infuses them with a truth that transcends the structure and takes on a life of its own.

One other factor that was interesting in respect of my Titus Andronicus studies was the use the Brook made of music. I've spent the last couple of days researching his 1955 production of the play and apparently one of the things that made it so effective was his use of sound, often very minimal, often discordant and unexpected. He did exactly the same here, including at one point having the single musician use the bellows of a piano accordion to echo the sighs of lost love. It always seems miraculous to me when you can feel events reaching to each other across boundaries of space or time or culture and this was one such occasion.



  1. This sounds like it was a beautiful production and a vibrant and unique presentation of the sonnets.

  2. It was, Anbolyn and completely unexpected as well. I had thought it would be much more formal like the Poetry Festival we have in the summer. This was far more insightful.