In Albatross, the audience joins solo performer Benjamin Evett on a captivating but doomed journey. The production is based on Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner, but rather than a classic retelling, Mike Seiden and The Poets’ Theatre have taken one of the English language’s most iconic poems and turned it into a visually enthralling saga.
Cursed with immortality, the Mariner speaks to us in the modern day, but is condemned to keep retelling the story of his voyage. Evett himelf lives in Bristol, and it is from there that the Mariner is invited – almost coerced – into going on a lengthy journey. In true sailor-story fashion, the voyage is riddled with a sea battle, extreme cold and ice, storms, endless rains, and the merciless heat. Even penguins make an appearance as the cruel Captain’s victims.
The Mariner accuses the audience of constantly asking “why” – because finding something is so easy these days. About halfway through the performance, the thread loops as he moans “Sometimes… there is no why”.
Evett dominates the stage and owns it completely. From the shockingly coarse tongue of a true-blue sailor to the smooth recital of Coleridge’s poem, the narration flows easily and naturally. Just like the poem, the albatross becomes a central fixture of the tale, more so dead than alive, and this larger-than-life bird is conjured through words and haunting music.
The second half of the show is profound. The story of the sailors slowly heading towards a painful death takes a back seat, as a much larger and more poignant theme of the interconnectedness of man and nature emerges. The need for inner peace, and a suggestion for how to find it – by embracing the common pulse we share with the birds and beasts around us – lands, amidst torn masts, straight in the wheelhouse of this play. The ending is sublime.
Churches generally make for imposing venues. Here at St Augustine’s, a large stage serves for the most part as the “deck” of the ship, and the large and beautiful cross high centre-stage seems very fitting – Coleridge was a religious man. Initially the set may seem sparse, but with the sails acting as canvas for the lights, it actually works really well. The musical score is top-class too.
The first half hour is slow, however. It takes a while to ramp up to the actual story, which essentially starts as our Mariner goes aboard the vessel. The set-up in Italian is strange, and may make those who have read and know the poem a bit impatient.
But director Rick Lombardo has brought new life to a familiar poem, and hearing those lines is like running into an old friend; the stories may have changed but the person is still the same. Only a few more shows remain until Sunday, so make sure you set time aside for this enthralling production.