Review: Pre-Raphaelites (Footprints Festival, online)

The last of the Live Canon poetry readings in the Jermyn Street Theatre‘s Footprints Festival puts the spotlight squarely on the Pre-Raphaelites, the founding figure of which was Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882).

Rossetti and his associated artists – wife Lizzie Siddal (1829-1862), sister Christina Rossetti (1830-1894, best known for Goblin Market – “we’d love to do the whole thing, but we do want to go home and go to the pub”), Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837-1909), and the group’s sponsor John Ruskin (1819-1900) – are well-represented here.

The delivery is generally very good, and any flubs are acknowledged with humour and camaraderie between the group. True, as the trio acknowledge, a lot of the material is “a downer”; these were artists of great melancholy and seriousness in some ways. However, much of the Pre-Raphaelites’s work was challenging, erotic, disturbing, and certainly different to material that had gone before.

George Meredith’s (1828-1909) selected sonnets from his Modern Love is included, a staggering epic work on a bad marriage. I recall finding this poem for the first time and recognising how diverse the work of these Victorians was. The Live Canon team – Rebecca Hare, Simon Muller, and Jim Scott, directed by Helen Eastman) bring their selections from this epic work into modern relevance.

Promotional image for Live Canon: Pre-Raphaelites

While Rossetti (C) was evoking girlish goblin lust, Rossetti (D) was contrasting the human and divine of woman, and Swinburne was exploring topics so forbidden his book of poems was banned.

The personal and the politic are merged in two recitals of poems by William Morris (1834-1896, the textile artist also deeply associated with the Arts and Crafts movement); the deeply reflective Chapel of Lyoness and the powerful Chants for Socialists. And the last two choices are the school perennials Song and A Birthday by Christina Rossetti, beautifully read by Hare and Muller respectively.

If you wish to hear Live Canon perform Goblin Market as a whole, you can do so on their YouTube channel.

More about the ensemble can be found on their website.

Pre-Raphaelites was performed at the Jermyn Street Theatre on the 11 July as part of their Footprints Festival; I viewed the livestream.

LouReviews received complimentary access to review Live Canon: Pre-Raphaelites.