Writer: Polly Lister
Director: Joe Sumsion
Reviewer: May Mellstrom
With a UK Theatre Award to her name and twenty years experience as an actress, Polly Lister has trod many boards, donned many wigs and performed many roles. Yet here, in her deeply personal debut play, Lister chronicles her most challenging role of all; a wife.
Originally premiering as part of The Dukes ‘Kick Start’ initiative in 2015 (offering audiences the chance to give feedback on new plays in development) I Was a Wife is Lister’s autobiographical account of her own marriage and subsequent divorce, with Lister laying bare her soul both as writer and actress to bring the audience along on the journey.
Lister allows us a peek into her dressing room as she recreates characters she had been playing at significant times of her relationship, from the just engaged pantomime fairy to the newly separated Cruella De Vil. Lister slips back into these characters with ease and it is a treat to see her reprise some excellent performances; those who remember the 2014 Williamson Park production of Hansel &Gretel will recognise Kieran Buckeridge’s song Enjoy which has become no less catchy in the intervening years. This device works best when showcasing her two appearances in Noel Cowards’ Hay Fever; with the marked differences in her portrayal of the vampish Myra Arundel representing the shift in her emotional state pre and post marriage.
There are times early in the play when the shift in character or accent jars slightly and could be clearer, particularly where Lister converses with herself, however when she hits her stride there is no doubt that this is an astonishing solo performance. She is an incredibly engaging performer and as she speaks directly to the audience, one cannot help but both relate and be charmed by her wit, intelligence and ultimately her searing honesty. She speaks from the heart and it shows.
It is an accomplished debut from a new writer with Lister and director Joe Sumsion ensuring that despite Lister’s bravura solo performance, the piece works structurally and narratively to feel more like a play than a monologue. Where it could perhaps benefit from expansion is in the portrayal of Lister’s happy memories of her marriage, with the play shifting quickly from wedding to future irreconcilable ‘bad patch’.
Ultimately however, The Dukes commitment to nurturing and developing new writing has resulted in a bold, funny and poignant play with a terrific performance from Polly Lister who bravely shares her own ‘lows’ to show that there can again be ‘highs’.
Runs until 6th February 2016 | Image: Contributed