The World’s Wife @ Trafalgar Studios, London

performed by
Linda Marlowe

directed by
Di Sherlock
Linda Marlowes one woman performance of Carol Ann Duffys The Worlds Wife straddles the divide between poetry and theatre.

This is not a straightforward reading of the text, rather Marlowe attempts to bring Duffys poetry a string of first person monologues to life, to give them voice and shape and character.

The Worlds Wife is collection of work written from the female perspective about notable figures in history and myth.
Some of the poems are written from the point of view of classical heroines the inevitable Penelope as well as Circe and Medusa while others are written from the point of view of the spouses of historical figures, like Mrs Darwin and Frau Freud. The Kray Sisters have become second wave feminists who make the east end streets safer for women. Eurydice reveals she was happier in the underworld rather than acting as a sounding board for her husbands interminable poetry and Mrs Tiresias can only raise an eyebrow at the fuss made by her other half when s/he gets his first period.

Sometimes the poems are pithy and funny Mrs Midas fearing for the safety of the cat more often they are poignant, resigned and even unsettling. The thread that unites them is of womens voices being, if not always silenced, then overlooked, neglected, lost to time.

The show was conceived before Duffy was made laureate and Marlowe clear feels passionately about the work. She has a strong sense of metre and rhythm and delivers the verse with skill and flair. But her need to act out the poems, to create characters rather than simply speak the words, sometimes becomes a hindrance. She hunches and shuffles and lisps as Quasimodos hard done by wife and, perhaps in an attempt to add texture to the piece, she employs a range of accents: a perky Australian for one poem, a Deep South drawl for another. Sometimes this approach feels appropriate, but just as often it jars.

Marlowe also seems to need to give a physical element to the performance. Her Queen Kong (yes, thats right, the big monkey) bounds and lopes around the stage, while her Delilah shimmies and wiggles provocatively. A selection of scarves and gloves and aprons are dotted around the stage, hanging from drying rack or balled in a laundry basket, and she dons these where appropriate, but the costumes (such as they are) and the reliance on accents sometimes create a distraction; they erect a barrier between the words and the audience. When Marlowe pares things down and lets her actors sense of delivery and nuance guide her performance, then a better balance is achieved and this is very much the case in the haunting poem about Myra Hindley, The Devils Wife.

There’s much to enjoy in this production, but it’s strongest when it’s at its simplest and trusts the words to speak for themselves.

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