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Review: Total Eclipse @ Crescent Theatre

I hope the students at Birmingham School of Acting know how lucky they are, cast in fascinating plays by some of the world’s most interesting playwrights, given parts that stretch them, directed by experts and given the chance to appear in productions like this one where no detail has been overlooked in the cause of bringing artifice to shimmering life. Just take a look at the tawdry touring productions of hackneyed out-of-copyright plays currently on offer in venues near you and you’ll see what I mean.

Stephen Simms, veteran of the RSC and Cheek By Jowl and now Birmingham School of Acting’s Director takes the helm for Total Eclipse and it shows. Meticulously prepared and presented it allows the actors full reign to shine in Hampton’s surprisingly modern tale of the poets Verlaine and Rimbaud and their early nineteenth century love which in those days dared not speak its pseudonym although they did their best.

Josh Harper is simply glorious as the proto-punk Rimbaud, a petulant, self-obsessed urchin whose contrariness is pure oxygen in the stifling air of Parisian middle class life. Jacob-John Church as the bourgeois hobbyist writer Verlaine who leaves his wife for this Ortonesque boy shows him taking to a life of decadence with suspicious ease.

The posh orgy scene where Rimbaud outrages the more careful and conventional decadents is Dorian Grey imagined by Glyndebourne, in other words perfect. If the evening has a fault it’s the second half, showing the fractious lovers past their glory days – think post-spitting punk stars now. This was an anti-climax which should have begun the play in one telling scene before showing us the glamour and enduring magic.

But nothing like this could be seen at present in any Midlands theatre apart from the great subsidised companies and certain out of the way treasures. This is a luxurious production, sumptuously cast. Theatre doesn’t get much better.

A volunteer wrote this. Say thanks with a coffee.