The Rime of the Ancient Mariner @ The Old Vic Tunnels

Before I start talking about this performance, I want to mention how amazing this venue is. I have seen plays both at The Young Vic and The Old Vic, but I don’t know how I spent life without ever stepping foot in The Old Vic Tunnels. The underpass leading to it looks like it belongs in an estate in South London, with graffiti covering its walls and ceiling, which is pretty awesome. Inside the venue is, well, a bunch of tunnels, meandering and joining each other in different places, with the old-school brickwork still intact. Even if you don’t go to see a show, you should definitely go and take a look around or just have a drink at the bar.

Now to the production, what’s not to like? As we have established already, a unique venue, complete with a minimalist yet very effective set, one of the most famous epic poem’s ever written, and of course, the brilliant Fiona Shaw. Director Phyllida Lloyd’s aim seems simple: use the storytelling element of the poem to draw attention to the intense descriptions within it. And this idea totally works.

Admittedly, it did take me a little while to get into it at first, as I found it slightly difficult to concentrate on what was going on. This didn’t surprise me though, as when I first read the poem, it had the same effect on me. However, once the tale was being told, it was difficult to not listen to it, especially because Shaw’s storytelling ability is so hypnotic, just like the Mariner’s. She uses different accents and voices to express the different characters in the poem, and each time she does, it is so easy to believe that they are all individually present on stage.

While Shaw is switching from the voice of the Wedding Guest, to the Mariner, to the different spirits present in the poem, dancer Daniel Hay-Gordon accompanies her by embodying these characters through movement. The choreography (by Kim Brandstrup) looks excellent on stage, especially in Part V of the poem, when the Mariner hears the two voices talking to each other. Hay-Gordon performs these two very different voices through the way he moves his body and by using masks, convincing the audience that the two characters are really present on stage. Man the guy can move. Wouldn’t it be awesome if all men were that flexible?

The aged sail hanging from the ceiling to create a backdrop for the piece is the only distinctive part of the set, which not only looks great, but also serves as canvas to create images on. For example, with the help of the lighting, Hay-Gordon is able to use his body to generate the shadow of the Albatross onto the sail, bringing the most important element of the piece to life. There is also a point in the performance where he has his arms over a long stick which is resting on his shoulders, to represent the Albatross hanging around his neck. The prop in this position produces a shadow behind him which resembles, I think, Christ on the cross, which (those who studied the poem should know) is what the bird represents. That’s what I think anyway, I could be totally wrong.

This is another Lloyd performance I enjoyed watching, and would definitely recommend it.

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