Angelica Torn @ The Bosco Theatre
3:00pm, Thu 9 Mar 2006
My prior knowledge of Sylvia Plath’s work was limited to the fact that she’d written a short story called “Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams”, the title of which inspired one of the more brilliant stars in Tears For Fears’ catalogue. For that reason, and that reason alone, her name has always piqued my curiosity; and usually my judgment’s pretty good on such trivial connections. So when I spied the précis for Edge – her own story, told on the day she committed suicide – I marked it down as a must-see.
Written from the perspective of Plath on the day of her suicide (but with knowledge of future events), Edge is essentially a tale of the men in her life: her husband, poet Ted Hughes, and her father, who died when she was eight. Her disapproving mother and the trials of her own mental anguish also feature highly, but the first time that Ted is mentioned you can sense the bitterness and hatred and longing that Plath still holds.
Emotionally battered after the death of her domineering and emotionally distant father, Plath’s seemingly unflappable exterior masked an internal demolition job. Her inability to deal with failure in her search for perfection led to self-mutilation, suicide attempts and, eventually, psychiatric hospitalisation – the scenes describing two of her psychiatrists (including “Doctor Horror”) are alternatively painful and humorous. Once she meets Ted Hughes, the emotional replacement for her father, the tale becomes even more (if that seems possible) twisted and bitter; their animalistic relationship, the physical abuse, Ted’s jealousy of her (Plath was a better poet than Hughes… and both of them knew it), Ted’s mother’s (!) jealousy of Plath… it’s a veritable bucket of nastiness.
Moving to England at Ted’s request, despite disliking the land and its people intensely (“why do they allow teeth to rot in their mouths?”), she bore two children by Ted – only to see Ted leave her for the comic relief of the performance, Assia. The venom spat forth in the name of “the Cow” seems never-ending; in the end, with Ted and Assia urging Plath to kill herself, it seems completely justified, especially given her persistent longing for Ted, even after feeling so utterly betrayed.
The first thing you sense about Angelica Torn as she takes to the stage as Sylvia is that she’s good. Damn good. Sure, you know she’s won Best Actress awards for this piece, but her cheeky laugh and forthright nature wins you over immediately. The explosion at her father’s grave is startling; the loss of her microphone midway into the second act didn’t phase her at all. And she’s either performed for two hours suffering from the flu, or has produced the finest theatrical rendition of pneumonia I’ve ever seen – either way, a huge accomplishment.
The only fault that can be levelled at this production is in its location – the Bosco Theatre. Wedged in the corner of the Garden of Unearthly Delights, it contains the most uncomfortable seating known to man – not good for two-hour performances – and is surrounded by walls that are good for only two things: letting external sound and heat in. Thus, the choice had to be made between seeing Edge (a) in the middle of the day, with street noise and sun overhead; or (2) in the evening, with lessened (but still stagnant) heat and carnival noises permeating the tale of a tortured poet. It’s a real cleft stick; I believe the afternoon was the better option (but then we wound up with mike problems. Ho, hum).
Still, this was a superb production, let down only by the old adage “location, location, location”. Put this in the Little Theatre and tickets would – quite rightly – go like wildfire.