Emma Mason reviews ‘Do I Dare?’ directed by Xara Bennett-Jones and Radhaika Kapur, which went up as a part of the On the Rocks Festival. 

 

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The intimate, conceptual dramatic work Do I Dare? completed its two-night run this week as part of On the Rocks, St Andrews’ student-run arts festival. Breaking with traditional theatre conventions, the piece combines poetry, music, art and dance to dramatise the relationship between two celebrated writers of poetry and prose, Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, and the decline of Plath’s mental health.

Do I Dare? takes its cue from T. S. Eliot’s ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’, and is in essence a collage of Modernist-era writers like Eliot, Louis MacNeice and Robert Frost in addition to Radhaika Kapur, who directed the play with Xara Bennett-Jones. Given this premise, especially the plethora of explicit quotations of high Modernists, it could only be expected that the piece might be inaccessible and self-indulgent, or stilted and fragmentary. However, the dialogue (more often monologue) flowed coherently and smoothly.Gabriella Masding and Peter Swallow as Sylvia and Ted made the most of what could have come across as mere recitation, savouring the words of adept poets and conveying the tensions and emotional nuances created by their images, rhymes and rhythms.

 

 

The dance aspect of the production complimented the actors’ performances where it could have been distracting. Choreographed by Lottie Barker, the three dancers physically embodied the couple’s escalating relational and psychological turmoil that is left ambiguous by the intentional lack of physicality in the two actors’ performances and vagueness of their borrowed speech. Although the small set was crowded at times, this enhanced the feeling of Plath’s claustrophobia and created a more visceral connection with the audience. The only thing that did appear slightly distracting and melodramatic was the music choice, which occupied the transitional interludes. These included Radiohead’s ‘Nude’ and a rendition of ‘Strange Fruit’, made famous by Billie Holiday, which respectively seemed redundant to and incoherent with the action.

While the production was too dependent on symbolism, it was nonetheless a moving, well-assembled collage of artistic mediums and influences that overcame the temptation to be overly intellectualised, and which accomplished its goal: to honour these writers and depict their personal struggles though the medium they most identified with, while shedding new light on Plath and Hughes’ well-known story in an unexpected and creative manner.

 

Emma Mason

 

Photo Credit: https://www.facebook.com/events/392370480942602/