If anyone was going to bring the sharp, erudite poetry of Christopher Reid to life in a stage adaptation of The Scattering and The Song of Lunch, it would be Robert Bathurst. He revels in the opportunity to extract the precise, elegant language of Reid’s work, and rolls it over his own tongue like butter off a silver spoon.
It is beautifully done, the cadence and construction of the poetry fused with Bathurst’s own brand of stage-skill works perfectly. The production consists of two halves. In the first half, an adaptation of Reid’s The Scattering is performed; in the second, The Song of Lunch. The intimate circle of The Round at Scarborough’s The Stephen Joseph Theatre is the perfect production space, where the narrative almost becomes an actor in its own right.
I was transfixed by the narrative, the story-telling of this production. A stark stage allows the poetry to flourish and grow, the actors pacing round the subject, manifesting the story of, in the first half, the illness and death of Reid’s wife, Lucinda Gane, and their last holiday together in Greece. The tone is changed in the latter half as the fictional story of a sub-editor’s drunken lunch date with an old flame is brought to life with lots and lots of Chianti.
Reid’s work has always been a fascinating mix of truth and imagery, both of which are dealt with here with the same level of observation: the dimpled metal of a restaurant doorknob is given the same sense of weight as scenes in the hospice. There is a feeling of constant, almost bemused questioning, a distanced, distracted searching for a path (or a meaning), for the poetry to be some sort of key to the truth within life events. This lends itself well to the circumnavigating of the subject on stage, the movement of character through narrative.
I’m always wary of seeing favourite poetry adapted for the stage, or the screen for that matter. Like all poets, I hold my favourites close to me like precious jewels and hate it when someone takes those precious things and mangles them. I’d seen the BBC adaptation of The Song of Lunch and absolutely loved it; Alan Rickman’s slightly vulnerable, slightly acerbic performance leaving little room for improvement. It’s become one of my favourites, I didn’t want that enjoyment to be sullied. But I need not have worried. The poetry was handled as a poet would handle it, but with the added actor-factor of stage presence, movement and physical manifestation. I should add that Sarah Malin was superb, a quiet force, the leverage on which the production see-saws. Her poise and naturalness on stage was something beautiful to behold.
All in all, a wonderful production and absolutely worth going to see.