views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang
The Rose
6th November 2014


Publicity image for Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang

Photography provided by The Rose

As a teenager, you probably struggled through at least a couple of essays on Shakespeare's sonnets (or copied them from a friend). And sadly, for far too many of us, this is the only time we hear the great man's exquisite poetry. Director Martin Parr wants to change this with Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang by bringing the pieces to the very theatre which helped kick-start Shakespeare's career. The result is outstanding.

As we've mentioned before, the Rose is an archaeological site dating back to 1587. This is a wonderfully atmospheric, intimate location, and it's easy to imagine the ghosts of the Bard and his contemporaries wandering around the foundations. You're centimetres from the set - in this production, it's a simple home consisting of an armchair, a bed (beautifully illuminated by fairy lights) and a small dining table.

The performance begins in darkness. Then, suddenly, the sound of a cello fills the room. As you look for the source of the music, you realise that the theatre is not as small as it first appeared. The tiny room is actually a balcony, overlooking the foundations of the original Rose. In the distance, the cellist (Lucia Capellaro) plays Bach, her shadow dancing on the walls, her reflection in a pool of water below. This beautiful imagery is a sign of the things to come.

As the performance moves between this remote space and the more immediate one, stunning visuals abound. The best comes during a scene in which the second performer (Katherine Heath) dances in the distance with her love's red shirt, her hand filled with balloons. A shadow woman moves gracefully beside her, while their reflections leap in the waters below. This four-way image is incredibly striking.

Shakespeare's sonnets provide the framework for the whole performance. Heath recites the poems superbly, taking us on a journey through the different phases of love, from aching desire to rage and finally reconciliation. Capellaro provides her musical accompaniment, which adds an additional depth. However, as the piece moves on, it becomes clear that Capellaro is much more than a supporting act. A dialogue develops between the two women, leading to a breathtaking conclusion.

In the modern day, Shakespeare's work is not known for its accessibility. Yet, the mesmerising beauty of Heath's movement means that it doesn't matter if you can't follow every word; there is still much to enjoy. Key visual clues also help to keep you on track. I particularly enjoyed the modern touch provided by the TV channel-hopping. I'm sure everyone can relate to the situation: you turn on the television for some distraction, and everything is about love. Nevertheless, if you do happen to be a Shakespeare buff, I'm certain that you will learn something new - emotionally or intellectually - from Heath's interesting, and at times daring, interpretation of the sonnets.

Capellaro is equally outstanding. Her cello playing is utterly enthralling and there are some lovely touches to her performance - such as when she breaks into jazz in time with Heath's movements. Capellaro also proves herself to be a wonderful singer and actress, performing beautiful folk songs and strong dialogues. The chemistry between the two women works really well, especially in the aforementioned shadowing scene.

This is an imaginative production that blends poetry, music and visual art. While I did struggle to understand some of the sonnets (not being a Shakespeare expert myself), this really didn't affect the overall work. With stunning execution and some brilliant visuals, this is a delightful, must-see show.

Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang opened on 4th November and runs until 29th November 2014 at The Rose.

Nearest tube station: London Bridge (Jubilee, Northern)

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