REVIEW: THE LAST NIGHTINGALE Upstairs at the Gatehouse

PUBLISHED: 12:26 12 April 2007 | UPDATED: 14:30 07 September 2010

Two star rating I suppose it is fitting and somehow inevitable that the Highgate venue should pay homage to Hampstead s favourite son, more so because apparently Keats, Shelley and Byron were regular visitors to the Gatehouse during the four years of thei

Two star rating

I suppose it is fitting and somehow inevitable that the Highgate venue should pay homage to Hampstead's favourite son, more so because apparently Keats, Shelley and Byron were regular visitors to the Gatehouse during the four years of their acquaintanceship, 1816-1820.

Oddly enough this play about the most English of poetic heroes was penned by a New Yorker, Dianna Lefas, and directed by Mitch McGowan, a guy from Seattle. I suppose the feeling was that they would view Keats with more distance and perspective. However, what has emerged is a number of lengthy imagined conversations between the several protagonists.

In the first act, Keats is a medical student performing operations and getting passionate about the physical suffering of human beings. This prompts him into giving up medicine to concentrate on sufferings of the soul and the worship of beautiful objects.

The second act deals mainly with Keats's obsession with Fanny Brawne and his eventual death from tuberculosis. There is a chaise longue especially placed for death scenes of this kind, reminiscent of the painting Death of Chatterton but with a great deal less grace.

Neither Keats nor his brother Tom (Dominic Cazenove in one of his two roles) die gracefully, surely a real bummer for the romantic poets.

There is much confusion in this production. The settings are "Hampstead and other parts of London" and we are rarely completely certain about where we are meant to be - also some of the actors double up roles so one is never sure whether Antony Jardine (for instance) is meant to be Shelley or George Keats or Charles Brown. Put it down to this reviewer's stupidity if you like.

It is always interesting to see well known characters appear on stage to other peoples' formats and although Ambjorn Elder as Keats plays with passion, he is not exactly my idea of the Adonais of Shelley's elegaic poem.

Lorcan O'Toole as Byron has a languid charm: "I never seduced a woman - they did all the work for me."

I was amused by Shelley's remarks about critics. "The empty jargon of monkeys."

OK then, abadabadabadabadabadabadaba.

Until April 22.

Aline Waites

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