Review / Sonnets novelty turns to problem

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Shakespeare’s sonnets are tantalising because they hint at the possible private life of a writer we know surprisingly little about.

Zappa (l) and Cole (background, photo Brian Stewart
Zappa (l) and Cole (background, photo Brian Stewart
“Shakespeare: The Sonnets Out Loud” shed some light on Shakespeare the man in a marathon performance of all 154 of the sonnets.

The decision to perform every sonnet rather than a selection was this show’s novelty, but also its greatest problem: wading through 154 often extremely similar poems is a genuine endurance battle.

The sonnets were rattled off with no context, not even their number. A selection of the best sonnets, organised by theme with some information about Shakespeare’s life would have been more effective and moving than the poetry avalanche approach that was adopted.

The performers, William Zappa and Tobias Cole, gave clear and articulate readings, and variety into their delivery with some songs and fun miming. But they were also in a hurry to skip through the material and it was sometimes not clear where one poem began and another ended.

Many audience members brought their copy of the sonnets to follow, like a psalm book at church, and that was probably the best way of enjoying the show. Rather than an open and inviting production, this was a sermon for the converted.

Shakespeare aficionados enjoyed hearing some excellent poetry read aloud, and the very best and justly legendary, but the average audience member would have  struggled with this focus on quantity over quality.

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