If ever a present deserved to be written about solely within the current tense, it’s the Gate’s Pricey Elizabeth. A love letter to the idea of reside theatre, the manufacturing is unapologetically quirky and alive, whereas nonetheless presenting a significant exploration of human kinship.
Conceptually bold, every evening, Pricey Elizabeth stars two totally different actors. Each them and the viewers have by no means seen or heard the script earlier than, and thus everybody within the room unravels the story of Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell on the identical time. The 2 actors – on this evening Saffia Kavaz and Michelle Tiwo – enter and meet one another, earlier than studying letters they as actors have written to one another previous to the efficiency. On this method, the present blurs the road between actor and character proper from the beginning, making all the things really feel all of the extra present and private. Tiwo’s Lowell is each assured and susceptible, particularly sizzling on the comedy beats of the piece, whereas Kavaz’ Bishop is quietly real. Because the night continues, the actors discover envelopes, postcards, and quite a lot of props that assist each them and us piece collectively the poets’ relationship, with the play taking over the type of a choreographed jigsaw puzzle.
Director Ellen McDougall makes the stage right into a kids’s playground for the actors to discover. It’s adorned with a velvet curtain that periodically rises to disclose props – the play incorporates small bushes, a yellow balloon, and an inflatable toucan, amongst many different issues. Between the 2 desks from which the actors learn, a type of graveyard is created: relics of the poets’ friendship progressively accumulate as props are discarded. A very mesmerising visible second is when Tiwo’s Lowell seems underneath a bathe of gold glitter: the viewers pauses, transfixed by the stage magic of all of it.
The questions on the coronary heart of this piece are so fascinating: what makes theatre reside? To what extent are actors on stage nonetheless performing as themselves? How entitled are we to the main points of different individuals’s lives? Whereas it undoubtedly sparks a spread of discussions, the present doesn’t at all times really feel prefer it dives deep sufficient in anyone route: an excessive amount of is up within the air. I like this manufacturing’s fearlessness a lot, however surprise what would have occurred had it focussed in on one explicit angle.
The character of ‘reside’ theatre has been broadly questioned over the previous 12 months, with the rise of on-line theatre, streamed performances, and radio performs. It’s refreshing to see one thing so undoubtedly reside and so separate from that debate. That is reside theatre in its most important type. The play additionally contributes to an ongoing dialog concerning the function of the actor, particularly in terms of two-hander performs. Together with the Donmar’s multi-cast manufacturing of Constellations, we’re seeing theatre that centres on connection reasonably than identification or superstar. What we witness in Pricey Elizabeth is a type of kinship between poets and between actors, reasonably than a love story in any conventional sense. In each reveals, the central relationship stays unchanged no matter who’s taking part in it.
In her poem The Armadillo, Bishop describes ‘a handful of intangible ash/with fastened, ignited eyes’; a picture which by some means sums up this manufacturing of Pricey Elizabeth completely. The poet’s letters, which might have felt firmly up to now – intangible – are dropped at life – ignited – by the actors, the blocking, the sound and lighting. Theatre is created earlier than our very eyes.
Pricey Elizabeth performed at Theatro Technis till 18 September. For extra info, see the Gate web site.