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Prufrock's World
Published on Tuesday, 17 July 2012

3 starsUnderground Venues, Spoken Word
7 Jul, 1:00pm-2:15pm; 8, 10 Jul, 4:15pm-5:30pm; 20 Jul, 1:00pm-2:15pm
Reviewed by Carly Bennett

This afternoon’s show is listed under “Spoken Word” – but far from an innovative piece of performance poetry, I find myself witnessing a relatively traditional recital of T.S.Eliot’s poetic works. Starting in a theatrical style, the lights come up on a small stage set up with early twentieth century furniture and props. It’s a rather familiar scene, and it feels like I have been here before…

Of course I hadn’t been here before – I haven’t even been in this theatre before – it just all felt a little too predictable. But the opening of the performance is still engaging, as it becomes apparent we are watching a character in one of Eliot’s poems. I know from the title that it’s Prufrock, one of Eliot’s most famous creations, and the characterisation of this particular Prufrock produces echoes of a decadent age – where the pompous and prudish are, if not carefully handled, easily caricatured.

Prufrock is a man of philosophy and intellect, yet plagued by insecurity, neurosis and social frailty. Actor John Rainer pulls of all of the latter with skill, and articulates clearly and with a resonance that befits a professional – though it unsettles me that despite seamlessly switching between male and female characters, his tone and pitch don’t seem varied enough to find clear distinction between the two. More worrying, I felt the meaning of the lines was somehow lost in a veil of insincerity; there is a storyline, but it was rather lost in hefty gesticulating and rather garish shouting, which at times verged on the uncomfortable.

And even as a lover of T.S.Eliot’s poetry, I still found it difficult to follow exactly what was going on for the whole piece. If you let your mind wander for even a moment, you are going to have to work hard to get back up to date. The language and delivery is pretty heavy going, and unless you are a lover of poetry (in particular modernist poetry), I would imagine it could become cloying. At 75 minutes, the performance was on the long side too, and could maybe have benefit from a little editing to keep the audience engaged; there was a lot of rustling and fidgeting towards the end, which suggested to me that I wasn’t the only one to feel that way.

It’s still unclear to me why the performance was listed as “Spoken Word” as opposed to theatre, because in many respects it was a dramatic reading somewhat like a monologue. The energy and musicality of the poetry was there, yet I found it too hard to follow a clear story. Perhaps it would benefit from being either entirely performed as a monologue in the theatrical setting – or more clearly as the poetry of T.S.Eliot, in a style more familiar to poetry lovers. But as it stands, if you’re a fan of Eliot, then this is worth your time; it’s an intelligent piece of theatre and a pleasing recognition of lots of his lesser-known work. It’s not especially innovative, but it is what it is: Prufrock’s World.

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These are archived reviews of shows from Buxton 2012.  We keep our archives online as a courtesy to performers, and for readers who'd like to research previous years' reviews.