Last night I felt like I had been caught in a bubble of sea foam and transported into a nautical dream as I watched the enthalling Fiona Shaw perform The Rime of the Ancient Mariner at the endearingly nostalgic Bouffes du Nord theater. I was so inspired that I asked Ms Shaw for an interview.
The actress and the show’s director Phyllida Lloyd (famous for Mamma Mia!) came up with the idea to perform this poem while sitting in the director’s cluttered kitchen. They were both coming out of a very hectic period and want to work on a small little project they could perform in a home, with friends. Already famous for interpreting TS Elliot’s The Waste Land for film and stage, Ms Shaw was on familiar ground with poetry, and like The Waste Land, this project grew into something much larger than they had ever imagined. It is now a Production that demands tremendous preparation as it travels the globe.
I floated to the vibrations of Ms Shaw’s mesmerizing voice last night, with familiar verses of this long forgotten (by me) poem bringing me back to land every now and again; “water, water, everywhere… all things great and small…” reminding that we were in Paris.
Walking into Ms Shaw’s spartan dressing room, I was struck by her eyes, exuding a soft warmth you could almost touch. She is at home while far from home and is quick to welcome others into her sphere with an easy smile and firm grip. Dressed in relaxing clothes for the hours of rehearsal ahead, two pairs of canvas sneakers abandoned on the floor, she offered me a seat.
I explained that I would be asking her how Paris stimulated her 5 senses, starting with my personal interpretation of touch; her favorite thing to do. “Perform” she replied before I had even finished my sentence. I suspect that this is what she loves to do where ever she lands, but in Paris she particularly loves the audience and how they are so attuned to the performance, even able to respond to the comic moments the horrific Greek tragedy, Medea. And one of the highlights of her entire career, for reasons she can not even identify today, was performing Richard II at Bobigny.
Her favorite flavour? While the reply took a little longer, she is very confident that it is the wine.
Discussing her vision of Paris, the actress closed her eyes, sat straight up and took us both to the Ile Saint Louis where the streets show visitors the Paris of another era with time worn paving stones scrubbed smooth.
Not far away, standing on the Pont Neuf, the fragrance of the Seine is her Paris, with the same smells that the nun’s would breath in centuries ago, as they passed by the Conciergerie. It is the smell of history and it is the history of this place that makes the city work for Ms Shaw.
The sound of Paris is the sound of the pavement, the low layers of cars whisking by, heels clacking, feet scuffling. And it is the church bells on Sunday, a different sound than the sound of church bells in her native Ireland, a blue sound that rings through the uniquely blue skies of Paris.
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