The Eve of Saint Agnes opened with the plaintive shiver of a cello, as the willowy figure of its heroine emerged from the darkness of the Rose Theatre’s ruins. One by one the diminutive figure in white lit flickering tapers, introducing the recurring allusion to ritual and magic that underpins Keats’s poem, and this imaginative reading of it.
Although young girls no longer go to bed supperless and draped in rosemary on the 20th of January, a contemporary viewer could have no difficulty in sharing the sense of anticipation and longing that infuses the poem, [highlighter color=”orange”]aided by a sensual staging and the breathless excitement expressed by its performers.[/highlighter] A young maiden, so the legend goes, who carefully follows the traditions of the Eve of St Agnes will be rewarded with a vision of her future husband, but in this tale Madeline is confronted by the physical presence of her love, Porphyro, a sworn enemy of her family who risks all to gaze upon her as she sleeps. At times it felt a little uncomfortable to be part of a double layer of voyeurism, watching her observer as Madeline unknowingly peels away layer after layer of clothing under her lover’s hungry eyes, but any sense of violation was swiftly dispelled by her rapturous welcome of him.
This was a production that carefully combined music, setting, and costume to great effect, artfully doubling the foreground readers who shared the audience’s space with dancers whose movements gave vivid life to their words. In all, it was an atmospheric and romantic evening that made The Eve of St Agnes my new alternative to Valentine’s Day!