Sunday, 21 October 2012

Sylvia Plath - Three Women performance

I went to a play, I made my sister come with me, of course it was Sylvia Plath related!

Sylvia Plath’s  Three Women,  a ‘poem for three voices’, is a powerful piece that moves between the voices of three women capturing their individual experiences of pregnancy, yet also revealing connected and powerful emotions. Three Women was directed by Melanie Thomas and performed by Caged Birds Productions at The Owl and the Pussycat as part of The Melbourne Fringe Festival. The performance I attended was Saturday the 13th of October.

Sparsely set the layout of the small stage area was effectively used as a the three female characters moved seamlessly between a rocking chair downstage left, a small bed and a lamp to the right, and the rear brick wall which acted as a centre transition point. These items were used effectively as physical props to the women shaping their bodies to these items accordingly to reflect their emotional state. The smallness of the space was also, I felt, to the actors’ advantage as it increased the intimacy and intensity of the piece.

The First Woman was acted by Gabrielle Savrone, who bought both a wistful tenderness to the part, her early joy clear in her light delivery, and a very immediate intensity conveyed as her character faced the reality of giving birth. She also expressed the wondering love of a new mother questioning softly “Who is he, this blue, furious boy, / Shiny and strange, as if he had hurtled from a star?” convincingly speaking both to her new son and to the audience, drawing us into her new-found marveling.

The build up to the First and Second Woman giving birth was powerfully conveyed through sound. As the First woman reveals “This ram of blackness.  I fold my hands on a mountain. / The air is thick.  It is thick with this working. / I am used.  I am drummed into use” there was a palpable sense of labour conveyed. Plath’s potent lines from stanza 19 onwards, until the birth of the boy and girl child, were punctuated by groans, puffs, sighs and utterances culminating in the stage lights cutting to blackness as the women cried out as in child birth.

The Third Woman was portrayed by Carly Grayson, who was suitably youthful yet womanly in appearance, evoking a strong sense of both innocence lost and experience painfully gained, which echoed in her repetition of “What is it I miss?”  The difficultly of her decision seen in her emotional delivery of:
“I am a wound walking out of hospital.
I am a wound that they are letting go.
I leave my health behind.  I leave someone
Who would adhere to me:  I undo her fingers like bandages:  I go.”

The Second Woman played by Narda Shanley was my, and my sister’s, favourite. With simple and small expressions and gestures she clearly conveyed the pain of loss after loss, the resignation, the inevitability, the muted anger and the intense sadness of infertility in tight well-paced moments. I felt myself hold my breath at her direct yet subtly pained delivery of;
“When I first saw it, the small red seep, I did not believe it.
I watched the men walk about me in the office.  They were so flat!
There was something about them like cardboard, and now I had caught it,
That flat, flat, flatness from which ideas, destructions,
Bulldozers, guillotines, white chambers of shrieks proceed,
Endlessly proceed--and the cold angels, the abstractions.”

However, I also found great hope and tenderness in her delivery of the poem’s final lines “The little grasses / Crack through stone, and they are green with life.” Director Melanie Thomas made a wise decision when casting Shanley as the Second Woman as her clear stage presence and restrained delivery made her pain all the more real and powerful.

The three voices work together to capture shared and divers experiences of reproduction, love and loss. Plath skillfully provides insight into the minds of her three women, using compelling and psychologically convincing metaphors and images to convey the complex ways pregnancy, childbirth and infertility effect individuals. Melanie Thomas and Caged Birds Productions are to be commended on their interestingly both restrained and visceral production.

(Though there were some factual errors that I found in the program which my sister sarcastically suggested I should point out to the audience before the performance... you can guess what I told her... though I did point them out to the complete strangers next to us...)


  1. Thank you for this enlightening critique of what sounds like a fascinating play. It's made me desperate to read this poem again

  2. Dear Plathery: Wonderful review. I want to know more about the program. But, I would: wouldn't I? And did you by chance (unasked for) get me a progam? And, if not -sorry for being somewhat clipped in my comments- could you send me a photocopy or scan of said program?

    Thank you so much for doing a review. I felt as though I were there with you.


  3. I would love to see this. Hopefully a theater group in St. Louis will one day be inspired. Perhaps I should drop the hint!

  4. Hi, just found your blog! Awesome work! I would love to know what the errors were in the program. My friend went to see this production and loved it but she didn't tell me about the errors!

  5. Hi and welcome, I will have to dig out the program, I think one was the statement that the children were in the next room when she died. However, they were upstairs not in the next room. There was soemthing else too. Will try and find it.