Even by the time I went to high school, Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner had been off curriculum lists for years.
My first encounter with it was when Iron Maiden quoted lines on the Powerslave album. Such were the times I grew up in.
Now, if The Rime of the Ancient Mariner lives at all in the popular imagination, it is in fragments: “As idle as a painted ship / Upon a painted ocean”; “He prayeth best, who loveth best / All things both great and small”, and the immortal (and always misquoted) “Water, water everywhere, Nor any drop to drink.”
But whether you know the poem or not, this Little Eggs Collective production, which resurrects the text as a vivid exercise in sound and movement, will grip you.
Taylor Coleridge’s poem begins when the mariner (played here by a suitably grizzled Nicholas Papademetriou) waylays a man on his way to a wedding.
“Unhand me, grey-beard loon!” says the impatient young fellow (Lloyd Allison-Young) but the mariner will have none of it. With “a glittering eye”, he begins to tell his tale of woe …
And a woeful one it is, a story set in motion by the shooting of an albatross, that sees a ship becalmed and a crew perish horribly, and that leads to a supernatural encounter with a ghostly hulk on which Death and a pale woman play dice for the eternal souls of the mariner’s dead shipmates.
The Kings Cross Hotel’s faux Victorian Bordello Room is reformatted into a traverse theatre for a production that forms part of JackRabbit Theatre’s three-month takeover of the venue.
The stage (a Nick Fry design) is a sandpit with a heavy wooden pile driven into it. Everything else is created with the bodies and voices of a diverse, nine-strong cast directed by Julia Robertson.
The unison movement and choreography is striking – its impact magnified in this small space – and with musical collaborator Oliver Shermacher, the cast creates an ocean of sound. The poet’s alliterative evocation of blustery seas are made to sing.
Given the tragic nature of the story, it’s a surprisingly funny production too, not least when the ill-fated albatross is conjured up with a kazoo, or when the crew whip out their ukuleles for a sing-song.
Earnestness and silliness are kept in fine balance throughout and the enduring moral of the story – that we visit destruction on Nature at our peril – resounds clearly.
It’s a short piece – around 45 minutes – but completely satisfying and an impressive next step in this emerging company’s journey.