4-30 Aug, 1515 (1600) @ C, Chambers Street
By Danielle Farrow
Poem Without a Hero is one of Russian poet Anna Akhmatova’s most famous works, and here it is presented by Holly Strickland, as Akhmatova, in an impressive acting performance – it is certainly surprising to find that Ms Strickland was not originally cast in the role and took over just before the show opened.
On a stage with varying columns of books and different pools of lighting, cool and warm, we follow the poet through the movements of her piece. Starting with a welcome to various figures of literature and some topical references (research post-show discovered the latter), the first part is so full of allusions one just has to take the ride and feel the flow of the poet’s meaning through the playing of the piece. This introduces us to some interesting characters, but also leaves the impression that there is so much more here to grasp than can really be communicated in this fashion.
The poem changes then, beautifully captured by the actress, and becomes more direct, while still lyrical, in this fine version written by DM Thomas (some verses especially translated for this production). We learn of some caustic criticism of the poet and how she dealt with this and feels about poets, before moving into her response to the horror and pain of what had become of her beloved city and country – for Poem without a Hero was started early 1940s and not completed for over twenty years, years including the appalling 900-day siege of Leningrad / Petersburg and Stalin’s rule, under which Akhmatova and her loved ones suffered repeatedly.
The acting is worthy of four stars, but while the piece is lyrical, moving and interesting, the poem itself is still rather dense and of limited appeal. If you know and understand it, you will love this, but if you do not, while you may be intrigued and charmed, you are yet likely to still be left unsatisfied. As a programme is provided – always good to have information on those involved – it should also include some notes on the poem itself: no matter how well presented, it is not accessible enough without some help.
It is wonderful to see poetry performed with understanding, true feeling and grace, and this is a very fine production on that level. If you know the piece or are prepared to work with it, Poem for a Hero is definitely worth your attention.