Chipping the romantic gilding from the lives of two of the 19th century’s most lauded poets – Paul Verlaine and Arthur Rimbaud – Slope traps the audience against the walls of the Citizens’ studio as Verlaine, Rimbaud and Verlaine’s shattered young wife Mathilde play out their tempestuous love affair in a cocktail of sex, art, love and violence as lethal as any tumbler of absinthe. But the audience are not the only ones spying on this torrid relationship: around the theatre, cameras are relaying the drama live online. Cameras, it seems at times, the characters are well aware of.
The drama is powerfully potent. Stewart Laing‘s unflinching direction and Carter’s lithe script are the backbone that allows the brilliant cast of three (James Edwyn, Jessica Hardwick and Owen Whitelaw) to push their performances to a brutal intensity. They play to the cameras far more than their audience, ripping away the artifice of stage-acting to produce something far more naturalistic and keeping a nervous audience on the edge of their seats. With the cameras adjusted throughout the show to get the best angle on Verlaine and Rimbaud’s latest debauchery, we’re forced to think about the obsession we have with dissecting the private lives of our cultural heroes, and – very relevant to Rimbaud and Verlaine’s story – to what extent we construct the private and public facets of our own relationships.
But it isn’t until watching the live stream of the show (available every night during the run here) that Verlaine and Rimbaud’s acerbic bad behaviour, the tug-of-war between art and acceptability and the cracking of a respectable veneer finds its full significance, sending the audience’s perception and understanding of the story they’re watching careering across the debris-littered floor.
Not for the faint-hearted, Slope is a breathless two hour window into the ecstasy and agony of a forbidden relationship. Fearless and unmissable.