In Her Own Words (Oh Woman!)

Becky Wilkie
Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester

In Her Own Words Credit: Hannah McLennan-Jones

As part of The Royal Exchange’s celebration of remarkable lives and quiet triumphs, of famous faces and family members, Becky Wilkie pays tribute to artist Elizabeth Siddal. Although Siddal is often perceived in terms of her relations with men—she modelled for the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood—she was an artist and poet in her own right.

Wilkie’s short audio piece is illustrated by Hannah McLennan-Jones whose pink-coloured pen-and-ink drawing becomes a vibrant background upon which words and phrases rush around in a dramatic manner.

The title In Her Own Words is only partly accurate. True, the highpoint of the piece is Siddal’s poems set to music by Wilkie with a skeletal folk-song version of O Mother Open the Window Wide being particularly powerful.

Yet, Wilkie takes a subjective approach; having reached the young age at which Siddons died, she expresses outrage on her behalf. Wilkie is confrontational—refusing to dignify the men she holds responsible for the hardship suffered by Siddons by mentioning their names. Wilkie’s audacious and blistering punk-rock interpretation of Love and Hate illustrates her bafflement at how Siddons managed to supress her burning rage under a passive exterior.

There is even a sense of anarchy as, in true contemporary style, the online presentation ends prematurely, with a child interrupting and bringing proceedings to a close.

Reviewer: David Cunningham