This show was a refreshing pause in the middle of a hectic week. Walking into Sandy’s Bar I was greeted by a much needed-glass of wine, and slipped into one of the only remaining sofa spaces. The actors were already on stage; three dancers standing motionless with their backs to us, while the two stars of the show, Peter Swallow and Gabriella Masding, sat staring blankly at the audience.
The Directors, Xara Bennet-Jones and Radhaika Kapur must be credited for their skilled use of space in shifting scenes and marking the contrast between different poems. Rather than using a conventional script, the performance uses a range of poems by various authors as a stepping-off point to consider Sylvia Plath & Ted Hughes’ relationship. The three dancers, Grace Reid, Alexandra Myers and Alexandrea Solheim, were placed expertly to stress certain words and phrases in the poetry. Their performances were a reminder of the interconnection between poetry and music, and the three mediums were affectively woven together to create an emotional and calming piece that brought you into the characters’ lives without the need for a traditional script.
Speaking to the dancers afterwards it is clear they thoroughly enjoyed working with Lottie Barker, the choreographer, who created something that complimented the poetry perfectly. Having praised the dancing, it must be said that Peter Swallow’s waltzing was as terrible as his acting was brilliant. We meet and leave the two characters as a disconnected couple whose performances rarely engage directly with one another. However, the scene in the middle showed the two together in a café (drawing on Louis MacNeice’s Meeting Point) and they were completely in love. The transition was unnerving and it was one of the first times I have completely believed in the chemistry between two people on stage. Given the lack of build-up to the moment I was even more impressed by the actors’ ability to convey a history, portrayed only by a few short poems.
The play ran at under forty minutes, and I felt I had been pulled up short by the abrupt, unresolved ending. It is definitely necessary to have prior knowledge of the two poets in order to be able to appreciate the show. However, although I did not learn anything new about Hughes or Plath, the play helped me engage with them as individuals, and with a wider range of poetry on the whole; looking not just at their work, but the work that inspired them to write. It was a moving depiction of two great writers.