The first performance in my recent return to reviewing was a play called Wit by Margaret Edson the Burton Taylor Rooms (as in Richard and Liz). All I knew at the outset was that it was vaguely connected with 17th century metaphysical poets, a subject about which I knew pretty much nothing. And that it was a student production.
Did the library have a copy of the play? No. Was there a film or DVD available? Yes, there’s a TV production starring Emma Thompson at £3.95 from Amazon, but it’s Region 1. Rats.
By the time I got to the theatre, I had read up on the playwright (an elementary school teacher who had to ask for a day off work to collect her Pulitzer Prize), read various reviews from the New York Times and ploughed through an article in a learned journal courtesy of my Open University Athens login. I’d also pasted a copy of John Donne‘s poem “Death be Not Proud” in my notebook and drawn up a short list what I hoped were intelligent sounding questions and things to look out for.
“What did the producers think the play was about?”
“How does a student approach the part of a mature university teacher with 30-odd years more life experience?”
“How were they going to handle the final stage direction which required the main character to slip out of her hospital gown and walk naked ‘somewhere towards the light’?”
I was also really looking forward to the play.
The performance was tremendous. It’s a really powerful play and the students had done the text proud. Afterwards, I adjourned to the pub with the cast and production team to do an interview. This was an interesting experience as the students, buzzing with the excitement of a successful first night, answered my intelligent sounding questions with even more intelligent sounding answers at a rate of about 20 words a second.
With notebook in hand and the promise of photos from the rehearsal, I headed home and started on the task of crafting 300 words which would give the public a flavour of the play and give the production team some constructive feedback.
For the record, the play closed with the main character slipping off her hospital gown and walking in a flesh coloured slip “somewhere towards the light”: not as dramatic, but probably wise in given the intimacy of the studio (it seats about 50) and the fact that she probably knew most of the audience personally.
Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell;
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And death shall be no more, Death, thou shalt die.