Wednesday, 22 February 2006

Edge: The Story of Silvia Plath, Feb 22, 2006

 Edge: The Story of Silvia Plath
by Paul Alexander
Athenaeum Theatre 1, until Feb 22 to 25, 2006
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Feb 22, 2006

Angelica Torn is mesmerising as the fractured Silvia Plath in Paul Alexander’s play, Edge. She prowls like a caged animal on the cavernous and ruined stage.  The distressed, painted wall of the theatre is a fitting backdrop to Plath’s shattered life and tormented mind.

Plath comes alive, ironically, in these her last moments, as Torn narrates Silvia’s tortured life before her suicide; in despair, she put her head in the gas oven in her dingy flat in London while her children slept upstairs.

Edge is a perfect title for this edgy performance by Torn and the fraught state in which Plath lived and wrote her poems, an autobiographical novel, The Bell Jar, and countless articles and journals. She was a formidable but fragile talent.

Writer and director, Paul Alexander, puts minimal stage action into the script or the production. Torn sits, writing at her desk or perched on a chair centre stage, talking to us about the death of her father, her relationship with her mother, her marriage to the celebrated poet, Ted Hughes, her suicide attempts, her perfectionism and her own exceptional talent as a poet.

For over two hours, Torn hypnotises us, just as Hughes worked his rough magic on Plath. She is a compelling presence as the ambitious, complicated and searingly self-critical Plath.

Words tumble from her lips in a torrent, as if Plath is unable to control her thoughts turning into speech. Torn uses a haughty Boston accent, precise, clipped articulation and a rapid arch delivery, almost dodging punctuation to express Plath’s galloping recollections.

As she self-narrates Plath’s life, Torn shifts into dramatic replays of the most pungent of Plath’s memories. We are hauled back into her childhood experience of her rigid disciplinarian father’s foolish death from treatable diabetes.

We see her first melodramatic suicide attempt when she hurls herself onto her mother’s bed, demanding they kill themselves.

We witness her violent electric shock therapy by a quack psychiatrist and then the milder, talking therapist who forced her to confront her dead father’s grave.

But most rivetting is Torn’s depiction of Plath’s relationship with Hughes. Her verbal description of Ted as a lusty, brooding, cruel, emotional thug and her physical portrayal of his violence combine to conjure an unhappy picture of the marriage.

Plath describes herself as “tragically brilliant”. She can also be intensely dislikeable, selfish and, perhaps, cruel. However, Torn makes her sympathetic and inspiring, playing her with an ironic eye on Plath’s own folly and fate.

By Kate Herbert

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