Sunday, 12 February 2012
Theatre review: Bloody Poetry
Turn up he does, and the first act is largely made up of their famous time there when Mary got the idea for Frankenstein. John Polidori (Nick Trumble,) Byron's personal physician and full-time whipping-boy, is at first the most identifiable figure among these self-styled intellectual deities, but as his bitterness gradually consumes him he becomes obsessed with getting the last word, by being the one whose version of the encounter will survive through the ages. (There does seem evidence that relations were sour between him and the others; here Mary is the most friendly of the quartet towards Polidori, but in reality she named a Frankenstein villain after him, a slight for which he never forgave her.)
This is the more entertaining act but there's power to the second as well, as the poets' idealistic, communal utopia inevitably proves hard to maintain happily. Bysshe and Byron may laugh off their endless venereal diseases but the former partners and resulting children piling up in their wake bring heartbreak of their own. It's interesting that Shelley's first wife Harriet (Emily Glenister,) never seen in the first act and rarely mentioned while alive, is a much more frequent ghostly presence on stage once dead. Will Reynolds' set (he also provides understated black and white projections) includes a little channel of water at the back, bringing onstage an element that is not only a recurring theme but also claims the lives of two of the characters. There were occasional scenes of Bloody Poetry that dragged out for me, but it remains an interesting look at how, though it may not have led to long, uncomplicated lives, the country's most iconic works of aren't weren't made by reactionaries. (And bonus points to Howard Brenton for happily admitting to veering slightly from historical fact, just for the sake of getting in a few digs at the Daily Mail.)
Bloody Poetry by Howard Brenton is booking until the 25th of February at Jermyn Street Theatre.
Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes including interval.