REVIEW: Ezra at The New Theatre Royal, Portsmouth

Henry Oastler as Ezra
Henry Oastler as Ezra
Tom Chambers as Bobby in Crazy For You. Picture by Richard Davenport

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Bernard Kop’s Ezra has only been performed a handful of times since it was first performed in 1981 – and it is easy to see why.

Showing the disintegration of the once innovative, albeit controversial, imagination of the poet Ezra Pound, its subject matter is by no means light.

Undeterred, New Apollo theatre, with support from Cop the Needle productions, brings Ezra back to the small stage with an intensely compelling performance.

The play sees Pound, imprisoned by the Americans after The Second World War for his pro-fascist and anti-Semitic diatribes, ‘visited’ by characters that have influenced his life, such as Mussolini, Vivaldi, and his wife, Dorothy. Jumping to various points of his incarceration, the characters in Pound’s head engage with him, both tragically and comically, as he reflects upon the decisions he has made in his life.

Henry Oastler gives a powerful performance as the eponymous poet, impressively delivering more than 800 lines and brilliantly capturing the maniacal side of Pound. Whilst there are occasional flashes of the literary genius, this side of Pound could have perhaps been explored further, providing a little more balance to an unbalanced man.

The rest of the five-strong cast (Patric Howe, Peter McCrohon, Francesa McCrohon, Angie Lily) switched seamlessly between a multitude of characters. With no costume changes (a touch that added to the surrealism), they were solely dependent on their acting performances to sell these sudden character alterations.

The intimate setting of the Minghella studio furthered the play’s intensity, echoing the claustrophobia of the ‘six feet by six and a half feet’ cell that Ezra refers to throughout the play’s two hours. The illusory nature of the play meant that little was needed in the way of props, which in turn created a greater need for the cast to bring us into Ezra’s tormented world – a difficult yet well executed feat.

For the casual viewer, many of the literary and biographical references are perhaps too obscure. But even for those with little prior knowledge of Ezra Pound, there is no doubt that the play gives a hauntingly mesmerising insight into his tormented mind thanks to immersive performances and skilful directing from New Apollo.