This is immersive theatre. But not as we know it. It promises much – Lord Byron is, after all, somewhat synonymous with extravagance, indulgence and excess – and we ought, therefore, to be treated to fifty minutes’ worth of opulence and pleasure. The prospect of a theatrical piece about this Lord Byron, in the immersive form, is accordingly a tempting one and it does indeed explore ‘the man behind the manuscript’.
For Byron fans, it is doubtful how much you will learn about the man. For newcomers to the poet – there is plenty of potential comedy in the script which may well show itself in later performances.
But no matter how enrapturing the performance itself might be, there is no escaping the fact that the few loosely-termed ‘immersive’ elements of the piece are to some extent bolted on and neither greatly serve the work nor add to the experience. There was some excitement before entering the space, as we tied our Venetian carnival masks to our faces, but there was no assignation of character or role to these costume pieces; nor was there any context for why we were putting them on. Indeed, aside from a passing reference late in the play to our being carnival attendees – a stare-down by Byron fondling his groin and an instruction to remove our masks, which some people already had – this was an under-developed conceit.
The play itself relies heavily upon the verbal dexterity of the three actors, with the wordy script requiring a highly dynamic performance. Lord Byron and his valet Fletcher, in the main, deal well with these demands, as does the enigmatic figure of Byron’s doctor, whose lyrical lilt is at once ethereal and an insight to the musicality of the poet’s mind. Regrettably, there are too few occasions of great variety of delivery from Byron which, in a fairly statically directed piece, ensures that it remains on a similar level throughout.
By means of a series of conversations between Byron and his fellow characters we eventually understand that we have been privy to a potted build-up of the poet’s motivations for writing his Epic magnum opus Don Juan. In spite of the obvious discomfort of Byron, we feel little sympathy for him. He is successfully presented as a character who is truly self-absorbed, arrogant, and, in his own mind at least, beyond reproof. The understated performance of Fletcher generously allows Byron to undergo some development, yet the poet lacks the conviction which would make his travails truly convincing.
For Byron fans, it is doubtful how much you will learn about the man. For newcomers to the poet – there is plenty of potential comedy in the script which may well show itself in later performances. But for the audience seeking an immersive experience – you may be better served elsewhere.