Daniel Hay-Gordon and Fiona Shaw. Photo: Robert Hubert Smith
The speaker is famed Irish actor/director Fiona Shaw, and although her voice was indeed mediated by the trans-Atlantic phone system, it still came through loud, clear, and with charm in a recent conversation from London where she was busy directing Benjamin Britten’s opera The Rape of Lucretia. True, Shaw has recently been directing opera, but she is still mostly known as the superb film and stage actor who, in addition to playing in classical theater (BAM audiences will recall her in the 2011 John Gabriel Borkman), has also made a side business of performing epic poems on stage. In 1996, Shaw wowed New Yorkers with her mesmerizing interpretation of TS Eliot’s The Waste Land, and she returns to the BAM Harvey December 10—22 with her performance of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s classic 18th-century poem, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. The production is directed by Phyllida Lloyd.
Coleridge’s poem concerns the tale of the titular and tortured mariner who kills an albatross which has guided his ship lost at sea, and the strange, supernatural events which ensue as a result: Death claims his entire crew but the mariner is condemned to continue living a life of haunted guilt, hence the proverbial albatross around his neck. The poem features a curious framework in which the mariner has stopped a guest on the way to a wedding and has forced him to listen to his tale. But that is only one of the poem’s many oddities, all open to multiple interpretations. One thing is indisputable however, and that is the poem’s visceral and hallucinatory qualities, rendering it ripe for theatrical adaptation. And there’s no doubt that Coleridge’s rhythms of repeated rhymes give the work an incantatory quality.
Fiona Shaw and Daniel Hay-Gordon. Photo: Robert Hubert Smith
Over time, the production grew in complexity and scope. Coleridge’s stylized rhythms suggested movement, so choreographer and mutual friend Kim Brandstrup came on board, bringing in Daniel Hay-Gordon to dance in counterpoint to Shaw’s performance. By the time the piece was performed at the Epidaurus Festival in Greece in August of 2012 in a smallish amphitheater, it also boasted an evocative soundscape by sound designer Mel Mercier and equally atmospheric lighting by Jean Kalman. “So quickly this kitchen production turned into a rather huge production!” Shaw said.
Stan Schwartz, a freelance arts journalist with a particular interest in European ﬁlm and theater, has written in New York and Sweden.
Reprinted from Nov 2013 BAMbill.