Book of Disquiet, Coronet Theatre, review: Elegant, pointless, but beautifully played

There was very little plot in what we saw, but an awful lot of words, with much repetition

Displaced while the Queen Elizabeth Hall gets refurbished, the London Sinfonietta is trying out new venues, and south London’s spartan Coronet Theatre was chosen for the British premiere of Michel van der Aa’s left-field take on Fernando Pessoa’s The Book of Disquiet. Pessoa was a Portuguese translator and poet whose passions were spiritualism, astrology, numerology, and sundry other kooky but fashionable ologies in the early twentieth-century, but his self-appointed mission in life was to hide behind – he would say inhabit – alternative personalities: he called these ‘heteronyms’, and there were dozens of them.

Van der Aa reduced these to seven, whom he presented in film projected onto two circular discs, with the Portuguese singer Ana Moura posing winsomely with a water-buffalo and singing a bit, and with the ‘real’ Pessoa impersonated on stage by actor Samuel West; sixteen instrumentalists were conducted by Joana Carneiro. There was very little plot in what we saw, but an awful lot of words, with much repetition. Let one line serve to show why Pessoa doesn’t deserve to be classed with Kafka, as he often is: "To be understood is to prostitute oneself." Pessoa was a mere flâneur, a poseur, and he got the music he deserved: elegant, pointless, but here beautifully played. 

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