Last week, The Adelaidian were invited to witness a literary great come to life at the Adelaide Festival Centre – Enoch Arden. Originally written by Lord Alfred Tennyson in 1864, with a background score by German composer Richard Strauss, Enoch Arden has served as an inspiration for a number of theatrical interpretations and films, with its romantic and melodramatic core making it one of Tennyson’s most popular works.
It tells the story of a fisherman turned merchant sailor Enoch Arden, who leaves his wife Annie and three children to go to sea. He represents the masculine figure experiencing hardship to support his family, with timeless themes and notions that still seem relevant in our contemporary society today.
While Enoch is away at sea for more than ten years, he returns to find that his childhood friend Philip has taken his place. Philip confesses his love for Annie and waits until she is ready to marry again so they can start their own family. But when Enoch witnesses them together, he goes into hiding and doesn’t reveal himself, as he loves Annie too much to spoil her happiness. In the end, Enoch dies of a broken heart, praying for Philip, Annie and their children as he passes.
But when the dawn of rosy childhood past,
And the new warmth of life’s ascending sun
Was felt by either, either fixt his heart
On that one girl; and Enoch spoke his love,
But Philip loved in silence; and the girl
Seem’d kinder unto Philip than to him;
But she loved Enoch; tho’ she knew it not,
And would if ask’d deny it.
The dramatic tale was staged by leading Australian actor and founder of Bell Shakespeare, John Bell and Australian classical pianist Simon Tedeschi, who both strived to highlight the pain and rawness that exists behind Enoch Arden. The minimal elements on stage allowed the story to shine, as Bell stood before us reading out the words in a gripping and powerful tone, while soothing at the same time. Emotion was evoked and deeply felt by emphasis on specific words and moments in the story, like when Enoch sees his wife and best friend together through the window.
Tedeschi accompanied this with an intense take on Strauss’ original score. It’s like he managed to step inside the shoes of Enoch, evident by the way he reacted and connected to the piano, pressing deeply on the keys and moving with the tone.
The passion and intensity that forms Enoch Arden was sincerely displayed in Bell’s and Tedeschi’s striking retelling, that doesn’t hold back, but gives respect to Tennyson’s renowned piece.
Image: Cole Bennetts