It’s not every actor who can speak poetry well. Daring to elevate heightened language so that it rises from the page somewhere between song and naturally spoken word is a risk that many actors choose to avoid. It is not part of drama school training and tends to be skill which is acquired gradually over many years. That’s why it’s wonderful when one comes across excellent exponents of this art. Which words can be made to sound more than others, and why, is an ever negotiable task anood deal of emotional and intellectual intuition.
Now combine this with the rich tradition of poetry about religious faith and doubt, and you arrive at a compelling place of engagement for the ear as well as the imagination.
Janet Suzman and Anton Lesser are two of our greatest readers of poetry and their talents are being brought to bear on a special recital in this year’s Stratford-upon-Avon Poetry Festival: ‘Soul of the Age: A Celebration of 800 Years of Holy Trinity Church’.
From the Latin Vulgate to Medieval morality plays; from Shakespeare to Anthony Trollope; from Margery Kempe to Gerard Manley Hopkins, the recital, devised by Shakespeare and Renaissance scholar, Professor Ronnie Mulryne, includes poetry and prose from across eight centuries.
The human voice is especially resonant in churches. The space seems full of words which are still growing into the silence after many years. ‘Liturgy’, that ‘energy of the people’, is palpable in the very atmosphere. In Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon, it is easy to imagine Shakespeare doing the occasional bible reading, and from the chained Authorised Version of the bible which has been there since 1611. A few feet away stands the font in which he and many thousands of others were Christened.
‘Soul of the Age’ takes place on Sunday 18 July at 6.45pm and will include musical contributions from the church choir, as well as the choir of King Edward VI Grammar School where Shakespeare himself is likely to have been taught.
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