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Soft, classical piano music accompanies a series of credits on a black background. The effect is calming and almost meditative, and it prepares us for the next thirty minutes of poetry. It also sets the scene; simplicity is the aesthetic of Theatre Lab Company’s Eros, which is part of their poetry marathon which will last until March 2022.
Director Anastasia Revi’s vision and Yiannis Costopoulos’ editing work together to try and keep us engaged throughout. Each reading is accompanied by a different format: at times, one actor’s face is foregrounded and surrounded by the faces of others, eyes closed. During the reading of A Red, Red Rose, there are nine faces on the screen belonging to the same actor, all speaking at different times; and during Marlowe, we are drawn to a close-up of an actor’s face encircled by different facial features of others such as mouths, eyes, and noses.
This is not the only technique embraced in order to maintain interest; each actor wears the same bright red lipstick, but a huge variety of masks is on show, my favourite being one adorned with red beads which hang down over the cheeks like beads of blood. At the beginning, the effect of this is mesmerising. By the end, however, it begins to feel rather repetitive, despite Revi’s best efforts. There is no music throughout, which on the one hand serves to centre all attention on the poetry; but, it also means that the whole production is an unbroken stream of readings that I find less and less engaging as they go on.
Despite this, I greatly enjoy the overall message that speaks to me from across the poems. An element of Eros is that it is bilingual, and works as part of their project to use poetry to travel “beyond borders and make the world a better place!” Thus, the poetry readings alternate between the English and Greek language, showcasing around twenty English and Greek poets from across the ages.
This impresses upon me a message that underpins the whole production: that love, or eros, is in fact a trans-historical, trans-cultural phenomenon, at least when it comes to Greek and English poetry. It is something that Sophocles understood thousands of years ago and wrote about in his Antigone, something that ensnared Byron, Shakespeare, Bronte — the list goes on. The fact that half of the readings are in Greek also serves to enhance this theme; although I cannot understand it without subtitles, I understand inherently the power and passion with which they were speaking, and I could just feel that they are speaking about love.
It is extraordinarily comforting to me to know that thousands of years ago Sappho could write about her desire and jealousy in fragment 31, and that I today can resonate with it. Eros makes me feel like a time-traveller for thirty minutes, dipping into different times and cultures and being at home within each one.
Eros is available to watch now on YouTube.