Rupert Brooke is best known for his WW1 poetry and his handsome good looks, but is otherwise a lesser known figure in the Bloomsbury circle of intellectuals and artists. Verge of Strife tries to present a true portrait of the man who, in his own time, was regarded as equally charming and mysterious.
In the space of 75 minutes Nick Baldock’s script does an admirable job of trying to contextualise the time period of the early C20th; univeristy life and the first female colleges, the debates in poetry, the rise of atheism, the group of Cambridge scholars called the Apostles (who were as much sodomites as they were intellectuals). Getting a good grounding in the time period is essential in understanding Brooke’s life, but it does also weigh down the play too.
The ensemble work well together, all taking on multiple roles apart from Jonny Labey who fittingly plays the role of Apollo-like Brooke. Starting from his early days at university, we see him form the relationships that will have the most impact on his life; Katherine Cox, Lytton Strachey, Noel Olivier and Henry Lamb. The play moves from university to his mental breakdown (caused by his ‘confused’ sexuality), then on to his time abroad in Canada, and then finally into WW1. The expanse of time the play covers means that some of the transitions feels a little clunky. By the end I was yearning for just one aspect of his life to be covered in depth rather than this sweeping overview.
Overall, the production is successful is conveying the mental strife that Brooke felt throughout his life, and the extracts of poetry give a satisfying flavour of the poet’s work, no matter how much or little you know before entering the theatre. Less would have more been in terms of the amount covered, however.
Verge of Strife plays at Assembly Studios until August 29th and performances begin each day at 14:15
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