News: 25 October 2021

Keats-Shelley 200: Keats by Candlelight

On the 6th and 7th September 2021, the Sir John Soane’s Museum hosted three performances of ‘Keats by Candlelight’ over two consecutive evenings as part of the Keats-Shelley 200 programme.

Visitors were treated to a memorable celebration of the poetry of John Keats accompanied by readings of letters to and from his family, skilfully presented by actors dressed in costumes of the Regency period. As visitors moved through the evocative spaces housing Sir John Soane’s unique collection of classical vases and statuary, Keats himself, his fiancé Fanny Brawne, his sister-in-law Georgiana and sister Fanny were re-created to entertain and delight the audience.

Each performance was preceded by a reception with refreshments and introductions by Giuseppe Albano, Curator of the Keats-Shelley House, and Keats-Shelley 200 Producer and KSMA Trustee, Joe Bates, before setting off into the candlelit recesses of the Museum. In the Breakfast Room actor Tom Palmer introduced some of Keats’s more sensual enthusiasms such as claret and succulent fruit, before leading us towards The Dome where we were treated to some enduring favourites such as the ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’, ‘On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer’ and ‘Ode to a Nightingale’.

Polly Edsell and Harry LLoyd Yorke. Photo credit Andy Sillett.

In the Monk’s Parlour there was a change of pace as Fred Fergus recited ‘The Eve of St Agnes’, ‘La Belle Dame Sans Merci’ and other works reflecting Keats’s fascination with Gothically-inspired, writings of the Medieval period. The melancholy and haunting ‘To Autumn’ echoed around the room as we progressed upstairs. In the lovely Drawing Rooms of the Museum, John Keats, played by Harry Lloyd Yorke and Polly Edsell read some of the poet’s lighter verses and explored elements of his life through letters to his fiancée and family members. This was a journey imbued with the emotions of joy, romance, sadness and final tragedy, so movingly presented by these young, talented performers.

The evening was expertly directed and choreographed by KSMA Trustee and playwright, Angus Graham-Campbell, and KSMA Trustee and Producer Joe Bates. Enormous thanks are due to the team at the Sir John Soane’s Museum for enthusiastically embracing the ‘Keats by Candlelight’ project and to the four actors Polly, Fred, Harry and Tom. The event was filmed as part of the Keats-Shelley 200 archive by Josh Thompson from Wigglyline Productions, and we hope you enjoy the short video trailer (see above).

‘Keats by Candlelight’ was made possible by the generous support of the John Murray family, whilst they kindly permitted the rehearsals to take place at their premises in Albemarle Street, London.

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