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theatre review: a kind of fabulous hatred at fortyfivedownstairs

The events that transpired over the last days of poet Sylvia Plath’s life is a delicate subject, and has been the subject of much speculation for the last 50 years. Australian playwright Barry Dickins has attempted to tackle this difficult topic in his one-woman show, A Kind of Fabulous Hatred. The performance is set on 11 February 1963, the night before Plath takes her own life. The set depicts her small London flat, with a gas oven front and centre – a constant, chilling reminder of what is to come.

This small set and unaccompanied performance help to present an intimate performance – a glimpse into the mindset of how things may have been. It was at times difficult to remember that this play is merely an interpretation of events, not intended to be a factual representation as nobody can really know what went on that night. Caroline Lee is a fabulous Plath though, holding the stage with grace and power. She encapsulates Path’s dry, sarcastic wit beautifully as well as her lingering anger and self-doubt. One doesn’t often think of humour when they think of Sylvia Plath – it’s a feature that is often overlooked in her writing – and Dickins does a wonderful job of bringing this out.

The writing effortlessly changes between stream of consciousness babbling and rhythmic poetry, suggesting that there was no way to separate Plath from her poems. Lee’s delivery is mostly filled with great confidence and strength, with the occasional stumbled line. An hour long monologue is quite a feat to pull off though, especially given the intensity of the content.

An issue that comes to the front is how close it comes to blaming Plath’s death on her husband and fellow poet, Ted Hughes. It is important to remember that she struggled for years before even meeting Hughes and it diminishes Plath’s worth as a woman and a poet to suggest that he is solely responsible for her troubles. It would have been interesting to see a stronger depiction of her inner turbulence on that night, her struggles with the ideas womanhood and motherhood, fame, and the way she will be remembered posthumously. We are shown glimpses of her self-deprecation, though we more often see her criticise Hughes and their crumbling relationship. It is difficult to disassociate the Plath we all feel we know, and be presented with someone else’s representation of her.

There were a few moments throughout the performance that weren’t quite on par, though. Instances where Plath was shown tending to her children were awkward and bumbling with Lee attempted to hold two plush dolls. This distracted from what could have been really poignant moments. Moments before the climax, a basinet containing the two dolls is hauled up to the ceiling by a rope and pulley, an action that seemed unnecessary and off-putting. Despite some of these annoyances, A Fabulous Kind of Hatred of course had a heartbreaking finale, and it was difficult to not be reflective about what might have been.

A Kind of Fabulous Hatred is showing at fortyfivedownstairs in Melbourne until Sunday 22 September 2013. To book tickets online, click here.

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