by Ann Henning Jocelyn.
Jermyn Street Theatre 16b Jermyn Street SW1Y 6ST To 21 September.
Mon-Sat 8pm Mar Sar 4pm.
Runs 55min No interval.
TICKETS: 020 7287 2875.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 4 September.
Limited skill in Connemara.
“Not bad at all for someone who isn’t a poet,” the poet Ted Hughes tells his lover Assia Wevill in Ann Henning Jocelyn’s new play based on the pair’s brief 1966 idyll in the Connemara cottage of the title.
The time, unlike the place, wasn’t idyllic, as the pair brought their inner tensions with them. Hughes’ dead wife, the poet Sylvia Plath, looms between them. The major revelation in the play is how Wevill might have contributed to Plath’s suicide.
That, and a few other, if less intense, moments apart, it’s tempting to turn Hughes’ words to Wevill into a damn with faint praise on Doonreagan – not a bad try for someone who isn’t a playwright.
Yet Jocelyn can claim theatre experience, as writer and translator. The fragmentary scenes are separated in Alex Dmitriev’s excruciatingly slow, superficial production by lengthy periods of lights rising and falling – presumably, as they used to say in theatre programmes, ‘to denote the passage of time’. And time’s passage is painfully slow here.
The programme/script has some interesting articles by the author, who lived in Doonreagan (there are adverts included for holiday use of properties mentioned in the script). Here, also, are some danger signals: the unpoetic script where conversational dialogue is pointlessly written as verse, or the note that the furniture onstage cones from the house and was actually used by Hughes and Wevill – talk about museum theatre.
But what’s most missing on stage is good old dramatic conflagration. Daniel Simpson has a fair go at Hughes’ educated Yorkshire voice, if without the rich strength. But his most traumatic moments come over with the force of someone who’s just realised he’s forgotten something on his shopping-list, while Flora Montgomery, after a sudden outburst of joyful dancing, settles down into a life of semi-discontent devoid of the temperament that drove her original.
Only the final moment when, the idyll over, she stands as the lights slowly fade her into nothing while she realises she will never mean what Plath did to Hughes, is there a moment of the dramatic richness so lacking before.
Ted Hughes: Daniel Simpson.
Assia Wevill: Flora Montgomery.
Director: Alex Dmitriev.
Designer: Fionntan Gogarty.
Lighting: Ana Vilar.
Video: Rebecca Salvadori.