Kings Cross Hotel, April 5
The success of the audacious decision to carve a theatrical work from The Rime of the Ancient Mariner rode on whether the result conjured visual poetry to match – or at least bring to life – the force of ST Coleridge’s astonishing imagery. This the Little Eggs Collective has done. Rather than present a staged reading, the nine performers, designer Nick Fry and director Julia Robertson have treated the poem as a template for a 45-minute play that’s as physical as it is verbal.
Rime is routinely hailed as a masterpiece, with technical excellence counting towards that appraisal, although – and this despite Coleridge’s obsessional revisions – the poem actually suffers from several instances of clumsy metre and rhyme. Its true greatness lies in its hallucinatory power and Gothic mysteriousness. This hallucinatory effect presaged the likes of Rimbaud, and as with the paintings of Turner, Coleridge’s direct contemporary, was staggeringly original. The mariner’s tale of shooting an albatross that had been accompanying his ship, the horrors subsequently afflicting his shipmates and himself, and the understanding at which he arrives of the profundity of the crime he has committed against nature, is timeless in its power and promise of redemption.
As if making an omelette, Little Eggs dare to crack the poem open, extract its essence and, while sometimes committing the sin of obscuring the verse, they fully enact its spirit upon the Bordello Room’s little stage. They shower the work with boisterous sea shanties, still its heart with affecting mime, and sculpt human imagery worthy of illuminating Coleridge’s verbal evocations. The albatross is depicted as a creature of gently fluttering beauty by Nicole Pingon, the crew’s desperate thirst in the wake of the albatross’s death by water bottles from which pours only sand, and the spectral “resurrection” of the dead crew members happens by creepy, confronting torchlight.
Nicholas Papademetriou primarily represents the mariner, although the lines are spread around the cast, whether from one voice, two, the ensemble, or, to stunningly eerie effect in the “As idle as a painted ship/Upon a painted ocean” section, in rounds. If no one else matches Papademetriou’s command of the poetry, none delivers solo lines for long enough to become a major irritant. The collective physical presentation, meanwhile, is gripping, ensuring Robertson and her company have achieved something memorable as well as ambitious.