It is strange to contemplate that Sylvia Plath would have turned 90 this weekend on 11 February. The poet’s life was famously cut short at the age of 30 by her suicide in London’s Primrose Hill, shortly after her marriage with the poet Ted Hughes broke up. 60 years on, Sylvia Plath's life and poetry are being re-enacted as part of the series Dead Poets Live in the atmospheric setting of Wilton’s near Spitalfields. Plath is played by the sparky Irish actress Denise Gough, who lends a mid-Atlantic lilt to the voice of the American-born poet, as she leads the audience through an entrancing tour of Plath's life and poems in an evocative narration.
The performance certainly lives up to Dead Poets Live’s laudable mission, which is “putting poetry on the stage, drawing together the most exciting performers and the most inspiring venues to bring our greatest poetry to new audiences”. Dead Poets Live have a winning format for their theatre-meets-poetry concept. I suspect it is economically produced - the leading star reads rather recites, hence the scattered papers by the end of the performance. It would be an enormous task to learn that much poetry and maximising proceeds is important as it all goes to a nominated chairty, in this case one I personally support Safe Passage.
Vignettes from Plath’s life, from childhood to her final days, are interwoven with poems, giving glimpses of her life and fragments of her inner feelings. Her co-narrator James Lever, who is also the Director and co-writer with Olly Rowse, added context and texture in a carefully crafted script. Gough’s interpretation of Plath brought to life the complexities of her character, ranging from down-to-earth wryness to depths of emotion and despair. There is even the occasional wisp of humour, not normally associated with Plath, such as her recurrent, unfulfilled, vow: “I must learn German”.