Tue 1st – Sat 12th November 2011


Charles Scherer

at 00:06 on 2nd Nov 2011



Poetry in performance always poses a risk to an audience. You may, as you take your seat, be about to subject yourself to a trial-by-verse. 'Seasoned', to my eternal relief, gratitude, and joy, avoided all of the pitfalls of theatre poetry. It was moving yet unsentimental; playful but not frivolous; poetic while unpretentious. A play about African and Caribbean heritage, slavery, and immigration could so easily have been preachy and didactic. As the company danced on and their quasi-tribal chanting transitioned into 'The Banana Boat Song', it was comfortingly apparent that the play's purpose was not to bludgeon its audience with a 'message'; it would have something to say without ever shedding its sense of fun.

The cast elegantly represent the cross sections of the black community. But, as proved by the range of performances and variety of biographies in the play, the term 'black community' is simplistic and unhelpful. Nevertheless, with only four actors the cast straddles generations and genders, and the individual (but mutually relevant) narratives fluidly segue between eras and cultures. The viewer is granted a breadth of vicarious experience in what is a decidedly ensemble piece.

Watching 'Seasoned', I was put in mind of Sarah Kane's '4.48 Psychosis' in terms of form, but certainly not in terms of tone. 'Seasoned' is not a play of a single story arc or focused protagonists, but of tales and images summoned by Edson Burton's poetry. There are no defined individuals to follow through the progress of the piece. Burton's verse is utterly free of cliché, and the vignettes he weaves lend themselves beautifully to performance.

When hearing poetry spoken or performed, an obvious criterion for the justification of the performance element is maturation, by which I mean we should pose the question, 'Do the actors and production offer a dimension to the text which wouldn't be available simply on the page?' In this case, an emphatic 'Yes'. The actors provide a sense of personal address, and a certain generosity is to be found within this – an offer to share experiences. There are voices to tell us the stories, and the attached figures to identify as tangible, sympathetic humans, that bit more immediate than disembodied words.

Andy Burden's direction is discreetly effective. The stage is never busy with redundant movement – he has avoided the temptation to introduce superfluous physicality and as such demonstrates a commitment to and faith in the text as the source of impetus and focus of interest. This is not to say that the play lacks visual or physical imagination. On the contrary, it makes economical and efficient use of movement and tableau to complement several of its episodes. The maintained commitment to image is at its most evident at the frolicsome climax of the piece. Not wishing to reveal too much, suffice it to say that a festival atmosphere is invoked, and I can predict consistently gratified and buoyant audiences.


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