Paul Alexander
King's Head

With her nervy body language and varied speech rhythms, Angelica Torn, perfectly named for the part, gives a virtuoso performance as poor, tormented Sylvia Plath. Even though she was a poet who died over forty years ago, the Sylvia myth is still as powerful as ever. As well as Miss Torn, fans can see Gwyneth Paltrow playing the apparently surname-less poet in a newly-released film.

Writer/director Paul Alexander has made a powerful but heavily partial play based on the poet's life. It is set on the day of her suicide and inevitably, the heroine reflects remorsefully on her helter-skelter life.

Ted Hughes, a carbon copy of Miss Plath's domineering father, does not come out of Edge well. He is a devil who incites his wife and mother of their two infant children, already a three times almost suicide, to go for a last successful attempt.

His motives are to thus free himself to continue an affair, to live for many years off the fruits of Sylvia's labours and maybe to remove an embarrassing rival. In her mind at least, he was the inferior poet and in the play, she rather oddly laughs at poems of his published long after her death.

Miss Torn achieves a number of moments or compelling, tear-jerking greatness as she paints a realistic portrait of the character of this tortured genius. The mood swings are amazing as Sylvia Plath ranges from cynical drawling delight in her poetry and her dark handsome husband to the suicidal despair that led her into the dark depths of electric shock therapy. This last is offered by a man that she chillingly nicknames Dr Horror.

Paul Alexander has written an entertaining but harrowing play about everybody's favourite poet. He sometimes over-dramatises but perhaps this is forgivable.

Edge has already been a success off-Broadway and at New End. There is little doubt that the subject matter and Angelica Torn's gripping acting will ensure that it does equally well at The King's Head.

Perhaps the only thing missing is a real sense of Miss Plath's poetry and the cause and effect relationship that it had on her sadly curtailed life.

This review originally appeared on Theatreworld in a slightly different version

Reviewer: Philip Fisher

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