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The World's Wife
Published on Sunday, 23 May 2010

Before ‘curtain up’, I often ask myself what exactly I am there to review. This is a case in point because – being a fan of award-winning poet Carol Ann Duffy – I consider that I’m reviewing not the poetry but this performance of it; yet I’m keen for Mephisto Theatre Company to do the work justice.

I know this collection The World’s Wife, and consider it a brave choice of repertoire; the poems are already enough as they give these wives their voices.  Each is individual, yet conveys her personality through her reaction to her legendary husband. In the wives’ earshot I had heard their voices so strong that I had not considered how their owners might look.

To give shape and clothes to Duffy’s Mrs Aesop, Mrs Darwin, and Mrs Beast – to name but a few of the twenty-two helpfully listed in the accompanying programme – and breathe life into them, is of course the stuff of actors. This trio took on the task, with the pleasing result that a disparate set of women hidden in different eras proceeded to centre stage to present in seamless succession as a sisterhood.

The world they created was a woman’s world.  A washing line across the back of the stage served also as a wardrobe; the women metamorphosed on set, changing shoes and accessories to  alter their personas.  At the opening, the three were pegged to the line by their hair, a clever device to represent their coming to life when unfastened – rather like the poems themselves. Each wife then demonstrated a verve of spirit and observation beyond her words: Mrs Darwin was matter-of-fact, Queen Herod and Mrs Midas were wistful and cautious and Mrs Quasimodo was angry.

Some performances stood out. Caroline Lynch’s Mrs Faust and Mrs Quasimodo, the one well-heeled, the other downtrodden, deserve special mention. She skilfully developed three-dimensional characters which, in my view, her colleagues sometimes did not. That said, they all delivered their lines with consistent ease and a familiarity which only enhanced the drama.

This show has finished its Brighton run now, and the company is based in Galway. But if you’re a Duffy aficionado and get a chance to see this performance, then do.  I think Duffy would be pleased with this result – though like me, she might regret that there was not a single man in the audience.

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These are archived reviews of shows from Brighton 2010.  We keep our archives online as a courtesy to performers, and for readers who'd like to research previous years' reviews.