Curtis (left), Clarke, Gilbertson and Green resuscitate Sylvia Plath and peers.
SYLVIA PLATH MUST NOT DIE adapted and directed by Blake Brooker (One Yellow Rabbit). At the Young Centre (55 Mill). To December 13. See Continuing. Rating: NNNN
Count on One Yellow Rabbit to create riveting theatre from a Dead Poets Society.
Confessional poets Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton were complicated women and artists who reflected their times and balked against them. Both suicides (Plath died in 1963, Sexton in 1974), they and their work are resurrected with imagination and a lot of poetic licence in Sylvia Plath Must Not Die.
Adapter/director Blake Brooker, cherry-picking from their poems, journals and biographies, imagines the two lounging on deck chairs discussing subjects like suicide, family and adultery. Reminiscences and imagined conversations - the two once audited Robert Lowell's poetry seminar - segue smoothly into individual poems whose titles are projected discreetly onto a screen.
There's nothing fussy or academic about the show. Onalea Gilbertson's Plath and Denise Clarke's Sexton revel in the poems' nuances, revealing things we might have missed on the page.
Clarke, with her grizzled voice and cat-like stage presence, has the showier part, since Sexton loved booze and sex, calling herself "a sensation junkie." In profile she's spookily like the real thing, especially when she crosses her legs as Sexton did in a famous 1974 photo.
Gilbertson's Plath, the more introverted figure, makes a radical change from buttoned-down prim scholarship student to lusting young woman and then frustrated wife and mother. As Plath finds her voice, you can hear the anger and determination well up in Gilbertson's delivery.
As the poets' husbands, Ted Hughes and Kayo Sexton, Michael Green and Andy Curtis get the first lines of dialogue and show up to dance with their wives and swap stories about being married to writers. They're fine, and Green delivers a perfectly acceptable Yorkshire accent.
But it's the women - and the collective talents of One Yellow Rabbit - who haunt the show.