“Potestne fieri utu nus homo dua orda habeat? Ut pacem cupiat sed tumultum petat?
Bear Trap’s production of Jesse Briton’s Enduring Song is filled with youthful exuberance and a wild sense of energy that rushes through the Southwark Playhouse. It’s an energy that works excellently in some cases – the paciness of the scene changes for example – but frustratingly elsewhere as untrammelled enthusiasm overwhelms narrative clarity. There’s just so much shouting and screaming and running around that the whole experience becomes quite wearing.
Briton’s play is set in 1096 at the time when the First Crusade was just about to be launched and in contrasting the experiences of the knights laying siege to the city of Antioch with those of the women left behind and fighting to keep their farm in Avignon working, the historical parallels throughout time ring clear – every army has to choose exactly what it is they are fighting for and also leaves behind loved ones who must struggle on through, not knowing if they’ll ever be reunited.
The ambitious scope of the writing and also the direction, for it is Briton who does both, means that the show often sprawls in an unwieldy manner. It runs for 2 hours 45 minutes yet still manages to feel rushed as it crams in huge amounts into numerous short scenes which are then delivered at breakneck speed at top volume – only occasionally are the actors allowed room to slow down and breathe out the subtleties of the piece which is full of dramatics but not enough convincing drama.
Elements are strong – the use of Corsican polyphonic songs composed by Greg Hall adds a beautiful texture albeit one which could be exploited more, Clare Amos’ costumes are pitched just right and there are strong performances from the young men who rush blindly to the Near East – Max Macintosh and Jac Husebo pair up beautifully as goofy buddies Hugh and Gaston and Daniel Foxsmith and particularly Tom Roe impress as the more serious Georges and Matthew.
But there’s no doubting that more focus is needed both in tightening the script, in order to tell the story more efficiently (the first half feels like it could be pruned without too much loss) and also in controlling its delivery more, so that that story can shine through better and deliver the impact it ought to carry.