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December 16, 2013 5:43 pm
Like Dylan on his never-ending tour, the old sailor in Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” cannot stop performing. “Till my ghastly tale is told,” he explains to his latest listener-recruit, “this heart within me burns.” Phyllida Lloyd’s terrific romp of a staging begins with the house lights up and Fiona Shaw, eyes a-glimmer but otherwise unassuming in street clothes, wandering the aisles for her next victim (a plant, we soon discover, the fluid dancer and double Daniel Hay-Gordon). The haunted fellow needs an audience to transfer his agony to, and the need is chronic.
Actors are used to reciting the same lines over and over but, with “Rime”, admitting it is part of the act. Shaw approached this conundrum with her usual thoroughgoing intelligence. Sometimes the Mariner relived his adventures stirred and shocked anew. Sometimes he swathed them in entranced chant.
“Hollo!” Shaw called to the balcony as if to the friendly Albatross. And to recall the windless “silence of the sea” her voice hollowed as if a pocket of the dread calm that had cursed the voyage had lodged in her throat. But she also revelled in the incantatory pleasures of the ballad form, to which Coleridge reverts for this supernatural sea yarn. The ghost ship that “plunged and tacked and veered” must have been exciting to behold, I thought, because the thick, tactile monosyllables were exciting to hear.
The corollary in dance of such strident rhythms and sing-song rhymes is plain old depiction. With imaginative restraint, choreographer Kim Brandstrup conjures the soaring bird, the thirsting men, Death and his trollop. When “the albatross/About my neck was hung” Shaw threaded her arms around a pole behind her back like a prisoner in stocks or Christ on the cross or the albatross spanning its wings. For the souls of the dead sailors rising to sing, Hay-Gordon swooped and slid and rolled.
Anyone who has ever encountered “Rime” as a student is schooled in the Christian symbolism, but this kinetically gratifying production brings out Coleridge’s compelling twist on it – that to be blessed is to be alert like a poet to the “glossy green and velvet black” and a thousand other “happy things” that excite the senses.
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