Sonnets in the Studio at the Abbey Theatre, St Albans

AFTER the Company of Ten’s production of a traditional Shakespeare play last week comes their imaginative take on the Bard’s sonnets in the smaller confines of the Abbey Theatre Studio.

Shakespeare and Love – Sonnets in the Studio, is the second part of the Company of Ten’s participation in the RSC Open Stages project which aims at opening up Shakespeare for performers and audiences alike.

The performance is broken down to three different interpretations of the sonnets – one more traditional than the other two but all very effective.

The first is Two Loves I Have, directed by Terry Prince, which takes the lines of the sonnets as they were written to lay bare the triangular relationship between Shakespeare, the Earl of Southampton and the “Dark Lady” who is thought to have had a relationship with both.

With a strong cast of Rory Byrne as the poet, Chrystalla Spire as the lady and James Duffy as the young man, the beautiful language of the sonnets is brought out in a timeless interpretation.

The most imaginative of the three performances is Sonnets in the Office which takes the inspired idea of recounting Valentine’s Day in a typical office and then rewinding to show the same scene using the language of Shakespeare’s poetry. How the cast managed to “rewind” without someone stumbling is testament to their professionalism.

Devised by the cast themselves and directed by Martin Goodman, there are plenty of light moments opening with a rap and culminating in two cleaners serenading their floor mops.

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Sonnets in the Office succeeds in demonstrating the timelessness of the themes in the sonnets about love, separation – and even halitosis – and how, while the language might have changed, the sentiments remains unchanged.

Sonnets on Trial, the longest performance of the three, is the most thought-provoking because it questions whether or not the sonnets are autobiographical or a medium to examine all aspects of the human condition.

Written and directed by Kate Rainsford and Margaret Metcalf, who also direct and appear in the performance, it is a lesson in the dangers of over-analysis with characters as varied as the down-to-earth Mrs Shakespeare to Shakespearean expert Professor Greenwood.

Set in a courtroom, it introduces Dame Ellen Terry, Elizabeth Barrett Browning and George Eliot into the mix, using their contribution to provoke clever argument.

But what most people will have gone away with was the lovely singing voice of Jill Priest who performed her original songs at the start, middle and end of Sonnets on Trial as well as taking the role of Elizabeth Barrett Browning. What a talented performer she is.

Shakespeare and Love is being performed from tonight until Saturday and presents the sonnets in a completely different and highly original fashion.

Tickets are available from the box office on 01727 857861 or online at