While Steve Gome is obviously a superfan of both poets, his judgment and craft don’t match his enthusiasm when it comes to constructing a performance text in homage to their work.
One problem is that the poems themselves – animated by paradox and wordplay to reveal the intricacy and sheer perversity of human desire – are often demanding metaphysical puzzlers, and many of their subtleties get lost by pancaking them together and delivering them at a clip.
More vexing still are snippets from a bewildering number of Shakespeare’s plays. We get grabs from Hamlet, As You Like It, Romeo and Juliet and many more besides woven throughout, but what should be a prismatic showcase of love in all its colours comes across as a broken kaleidoscope.
None of the excerpts are patterned with enough clarity to appreciate, there are some ridiculous juxtapositions, and the performance style is less interested in establishing character or unearthing emotion than it is in flaunting accents from three continents.
Quite why we’re getting Shakespeare done in a cowboy drawl, or a Cockney gangster accent that wouldn’t be out of place in a Guy Ritchie movie, remains an enigma. And given Gome’s natural speaking voice is pleasant and well-modulated (one of the few highlights is his plaintive, no-frills delivery of Blake’s more famous lines) it’s a frustrating mystery.
Gome occasionally bursts into song, accompanied by Silas James on guitar, ukulele and piano. Music does seem more apt to convey emotion than the muddled dramaturgy, though it isn’t integrated with any flair.
It’s all very well to hold “Eternity in an hour”, as Blake wrote in Auguries of Innocence, but the song of experience you might sing after viewing Shake ‘n’ Blake is decidedly less sanguine – the show makes an hour feel like an eternity.