The wedding party is in full swing, guests gyrating to a disco beat, as we thread our way to our seats in the atmospheric vaults of a former Bath brewery at Burdall’s Yard.
Among the dancers a grizzled bloke in a parka, looking like one of the city’s rough sleepers, incongruously wanders.
This is our introduction to a thrilling musical production of the lyrical ballad The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, by Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
Every school kid in the land must be familiar with the tale of a mariner who wantonly shoots an albatross, thereby bringing the wrath of the gods down on his head and that of the crew.
The crew dies horribly, leaving him alone to suffer “the curse in a dead man’s eye” and the need to do penance by telling his story for ever more.
But I bet no kid has seen such an exciting retelling of the poem as this performance by OnSet Productions, part of Bath Spa University, and directed by John Ward.
The mariner – the bloke in the parka – approaches three wedding guests who have stepped away from the dancing. Two are on their mobile phones – this is a modern version after all – so he fixes on the third and holds her with his glittering eye.
Despite protestations of “unhand me, grey-beard loon!” she is transfixed by his story. So are we, the audience, as a chorus compellingly enacts the ballad to a creative musical accompaniment devised by soundscape artist Mike Jordan.
With few props, atmospheric lighting and clever choreography, the ensemble conveys every gripping moment of the tale, from the shooting of the albatross to the sinking of the ship, the storms, the becalming, spectral hauntings, death and the partial absolution of the mariner.
Timothy Newton as the mariner turns in a terrific performance, and the cast works as a tight unit with spot-on foot-stomping percussive rhythms and some very good harmonies.
When his tale ends and the mariner departs the poem says the wedding guest “. . . went like one that hath been stunned / And is of sense forlorn:” – but there was no chance of the audience feeling that way about this production.
It’s just too enjoyable and storytelling at its best – shame it’s not on for longer.
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
Reviewer: Jackie Chappell
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner was an OnSet Productions production at Burdall’s Yard in Bath.