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This review will consider Έρως / Eros, a collection in celebration of Greek and British poetry, conceived and directed by Anastasia Revi and produced by Theatre Lab Company. This is part of a “poetry marathon” for which poets and enthusiasts can record their own readings of poetry in any language and send them to firstname.lastname@example.org, along with the poem title, author and publish date, to be considered for inclusion in subsequent collections. Hence, it should be well noted that this review can only consider this specific performance and not the overall series.
I shall start first with the manner in which the poems in this performance are presented. The poems, all linked under the theme of Eros — a fact I shall return to later — are delivered adequately by performers, but performativity does vary across the cast, with expressivity, energy and emotion coming naturally to some and not so blatantly to others. The poems’ order of presentation, however, is very good. It was a good decision not to structure the poems by alternating between the two languages (Greek, English, Greek, etc.), as this could have become rather repetitive. Similarly, the editing (Yiannis Costopoulos) allows for varied compositions of the speakers on screen without changing its style with every single poem. This would have become rather too eclectic and chaotic if this was the case; however, as it stands, there is enough variation to keep intrigue yet to maintain overall aesthetic. I would just recommend a few significant things: removing the CGI of lighting discharge across Johan Buckingham’s eyes, as this is too disparate stylistically to the rest of the performance; cleaning up transitions where our view of performers who have just spoken is abruptly stopped and replaced by footage of them with their eyes closed, before the shrinking box has reached its destination — perhaps I would add a fade transition here within this box, if nothing else; and, finally, a reorganisation of the final shot so as to have Denise Moreno looking into the camera as have all of the poets before her.
On the topic of Moreno’s performance, I move on to the coherency of the poems in this collection. I fail to see why an extract of a play, namely Crave by Sarah Kane, appeared in this collection. Albeit rather poetic, this extract is not poetry, nor does it profess to be. It is dramatic verse and should not be included in this collection. More significantly, though, the overall theme of love seems far too vague to unite the poems in this performance, given that some poems refer to love as a concept or form whilst others refer to erotic and sensual love, amour-propre and enlightenment, or unrequited admiration of another. There is thus an all-too-extreme diversity in the definition of love provided by this performance, meaning also that the relevance of the specified, titular love type, Eros, becomes rather questionable. I imagine that this is because of the selection process; perhaps more specificity is needed in the requirements of the poems sent in.
However, though this is perhaps a coincidence, then, there is a good unity in terms of perspective: the chosen poems all address their objects directly and actively, and it is easy to get a sense that the performers are talking from ‘their own’ heartfelt perspectives, of their own agency — intensified by the view of the other performers functioning as passive listeners, seeming unquestioningly attentive, their eyes closed, their silence unbroken. Additionally, such an inclusion of the other performers helps to create a sense of relaxation yet awareness. This is most effective for a lot of the poems, but, again, becomes questionable for the more ‘aggressive’ or erotic — ‘Sappho 31’, for instance. Nevertheless, I particularly enjoy the inclusion of closeups during Matthew Wade’s performance of ‘In Summer’s Heat’ by Christopher Marlowe. This segment allows for a certain scopophilia, presenting the most decorative of the masks and makeup worn by the performers — upon which I shall elaborate shortly — and forcing us to concentrate intimately on the eyes and the lips, which is certainly in line with the performance’s theme. I would just have chosen a different performer than Eva Simatou in the bottom-left, as her look is not as ornamented as the others in this segment, and so she stands out too distinctly as pedestrian and plain. Furthermore, I would have another performer fill in for one of our views of Helen Bang, for too much attention is drawn to her in having her on screen twice simultaneously, from two different angles. I should note here, however, that Wade’s inelaborate look does not subtract here, for he is the one enabling this scopophilia and performing a poem detailing the beauty of his object. So, this is acceptable, but better attention to detail should be shown to the rest of this composition.
Such visuals in this performance are, indeed, striking, but most decisions behind them, if any exist, do not come through, for me. I fail to comprehend the significance, for example, of the Columbine masks. They definitely unite the performers, but under what premise? Besides, the red lipstick on their lips is enough to do this alone. Perhaps the intention was to allude to the coquettishness, passion and seductive prowess characteristic of the Commedia dell’arte’s stock character, Columbina. However, this does not coincide with such poems as Kiki Dimoula’s ‘The Plural Form’ or Ruth Pitter’s ‘The Plain Facts’, to name a few. Another, more contemporary, function of a Columbine mask, of course, is to conceal identity, which serves to destroy that aforementioned direct perspective we are given throughout. The masks are also inconsistent, from the mask-replacing makeup worn by Georgios Iatrou to Evi Sarmi’s torn-up tights, better resembling a balaclava than a mask, to the, frankly, rather ridiculous surgical mask worn by Omiros Poulakis with cut-out eyeholes. I am sure this latter felt very politically inspired at the time of conception, but it simply looks like the unrefined work of a resourceful child. Not only are the masks inconsistent in this way, but they are also all terribly ill-fitting; they simply look uncomfortable, as though the masks must be digging into the performers’ eyes, unwantedly caressing their lashes. In summary, the masks are simply an awful, unnecessary and unthoughtful decision.
Overall, this performance has a lot of potential but falls short with its lack of cohesive visuals and lack of a more particularised theme. I would definitely be very interested to see how Revi would organise this on stage as opposed to on screen, as the editing decisions certainly provide a different experience for audiences and are notably heavily relied upon — though, this is not an issue for this current virtual performance. I would urge creatives to better conceive how the poems are presented alongside one another and what visual cues we as an audience receive. I would also ensure that all performers share the same amount of vigour and conviction as one another.