Into Thy Hands
Time Out says
Playwright and director Jonathan Holmes has picked a rich subject in John Donne. The seventeenth-century erotic poet was as great a paradox as any in his metaphysical poetry. Imprisoned and nearly ruined after he secretly married his student Ann More, he later turned preacher and died the Dean of St Paul’s after delivering his own funeral service.
Intense actor Zubin Varla proves that the poet’s sermons can be as thrilling as his sexiest lyrics. But you don’t get much of a break from sexy – or much straight Donne – in this nipple-filled production, whose intellectually powerful moments surface, gleaming, from a plot of unremitting seductions and borderline breastsploitation.
‘Into Thy Hands’ presents Donne, in 1611, as the charismatic cult leader of a mini-sexual revolution, routing prim churchmen with the aid of three groupies – his wife and two aristocratic female patrons. Lucy Wilkinson’s design, in which heavenly spheres roof the stage, is ravishing. The actors, especially Jess Murphy as Ann, ooze talent and commitment.
But it’s a mistake to drench an entire, two-and-a-half-hour play in the melting eroticism of one of Donne’s bedroom sonnets. Varla’s Donne has a voice, but there’s no subplot and the characters around him are drowned out.
Worse, all the baddies seem to be celibate or gay. Donne’s friend, Lucy, becomes a vindictive Sapphic nympho; King James I is portrayed as a predatory mincing villain who comes in his doublet and hose when ordering Donne to take orders. Even God (whose love of the female body is hotly defended by Mrs Donne) mainly stars as the ultimate sexual fantasy.
If Holmes were serious about presenting Donne and his wife as a proto-feminists, Ann might have buttoned up her blouse and uttered a few sharp lines to the husband who imposed 11 childbirths on her before the twelfth killed her at the age of 33. But there’s little that’s sensible in a production which, despite its high ambitions, verges on being a lushly costumed seventeenth-century wet dream.
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As soon as I saw the opening scene I was moved by the acting and the passion put into it and I knew I was in for a great show and it didn't disappoint. I didn't know anything about the play beforehand, but I guess I didn't need to. It was amazing to see how science/astronomy affected the church and turmoil it created in the world, England and even John Dunnes life decisions which affected his loved ones in a way he couldn't calculate unlike the astronomers of his time. I was gripped and moved all the way to the end of the play and the venue works perfectly with some of the scenes played in the stalls, and lovely touches like the hanging incense burner almost made you believe you were in a church, but I definately knew I was in Wilton's Music Hall which is one of favourire places to be in East London. Good luck with the rest of the show.
Thoroughly enjoyed this very moving play - gave me a lot to think about and was moved to look into my history a bit more. Definitely recommended.