John Bell and Simon Tedeschi’s imagining of Lord Alfred Tennyson’s Enoch Arden seems, at first, to be a bawdy sailor’s tale, told in the back corner of a smoke-laced pub and set to piano. It doesn’t take long, however, to realise what is really on display here is a stripped-back account of heartfelt passion. Bell’s voice soars and plunges through Tennyson’s narrative poem, while Tedeschi provides a welcome accompaniment equally bristling with barely-contained excitement.
Tennyson’s story is almost sparse in terms of its dramatic scope; years pass with little to no incident in Enoch Arden, and a three-sentence summation would give you the entire plot. But aeons pass under the skin of these characters in their yearning and desperation, and this is the true power of Enoch Arden. Enoch’s side of the tale is recounted with spectacular restrain, immediately noticeable when you realise it would surely provide the most thrilling scenes. But this goes to prove that this story is less about the epic drama of the high sea, and more concerned with the hunger and desire quietly hiding beneath small-town lives.
Bell’s distinguished voice gives thunder and power to Tennyson’s words. He doesn’t gesticulate or indeed move around the stage much at all; the strength of his performance is all contained in his voice. The almost-Shakespearean prose clearly befits Bell, and he works hard to restrain himself, to give power to the high points of the poem. It is calculated and studied, and yet equally flawed—several times he stumbles over his words, but this is not detrimental, instead serving to show Bell’s fervour to perform with full intention.
Accopmanying Bell is Simon Tedeschi on piano, performing Richard Strauss’ score originally written to accompany its recitation in 1897. Tedeschi’s renown is obviously deserved after seeing this performance; he plays like a madman in a straightjacket, clearly feeling every note passing through his fingers yet remaining strapped to the piano. It is easy to imagine him jumping up and joining Bell on the recitation, based on the passion on display. Together, Bell and Tedeschi make a formidable duo, falling into a comfortable rhythm early on and remaining at that energy level through the entire performance.
Tennyson’s tale of the shipwrecked sailor is wrought with aching emotion, and Bell and Tedeschi serve it well with admirable restraint.