“Love is My Sin”

a collection of Shakespeare’s Sonnets adapted and directed by Peter Brook at the Swan Theatre, Saturday 8th Janurary 2011

Shakespeare’s Sonnets were never written to be performed. They are clearly spoken by one person to another, and although drama is easy to find within the collection, it is not a narrative we would normally associate as a dialogue between lovers. Peter Brook’s production of Love is My Sin, however, orders a selection of these fourteen-lined snippets of genius in a way which shows a story with a clear beginning, middle and end while tackling some of the elements of love which Shakespeare himself considers.

Natasha Parry and Michael Pennington play the lovers who seem to be having a frank conversation about their affection for one another. Secrets are revealed, insults are exchanged and compliments are paid, and the sonnets seem to answer one another, even though they normally appear at different points in the anthology. The programme tells us that the piece is structured into sonnets which discuss “Devouring Time”, “Separation”, “Jealousy” and “Time Defied”, and even this simple ordering shows a clear development, and the shift from sonnets which talk of time being lost to time being defied offers solace. Brook has organised the sonnets in such a way, however, which allows the themes to flow from one to the other with ease.

Parry and Pennington both deliver the lines with utter truth, forcing us at times to forget we are listening to a selection of poems. They bounce off one another as if they were in a genuine Shakespeare play, taking what the other says to reinforce their own argument and speaking the words afresh. The complement each other perfectly, so that each is given moments of attack and defense, and they hold a gravitas within them which allows us to believe these are words which a couple would use in discussion.

In true Brook style, the stage is all but bare, forcing our attention on the words and emotions expressed. The Swan stage  is used without bravado, utilising the space while taking advantage of the intimacy of the venue. Harpsichord and accordion music played by Franck Krawczyk adds an extra layer to Shakespeare’s words, telling us perhaps the way in which the sonnet is being interpreted, and also hinting perhaps at the original court setting for which these words were intended.

The cutting of some of the better known poems is welcome, for not being as well acquainted with those on offer means we have to listen out more to what is being said. Love is My Sin looks at the sonnets from a completely new angle, and the setting of the verse within a clear structure and narrative extracts some oft-overlooked elements. It isn’t often that we come across performances of poems which work as pieces of theatre in their own right, but here Peter Brook has managed to create a production which makes us believe for a few moments that Shakespeare’s sonnets were supposed to be performed like this all along.