Letter to Larry
Persophia Productions in association with CheepUk
Jermyn Street Theatre
Vivien Leigh comes off stage at a performance of Duel of Angels in 1960 faced with trying to answer a letter from her husband Laurence Olivier in which he asks for a divorce. Around this anguished situation, Donald Macdonald has created a play that looks backwards and forwards in her life and her relationship with Olivier.
From childhood in India, school in England, her decision to be an actress and go to RADA, her marriage to her first husband and her first meeting with Oliver it goes on to trace her story as she struggles with manic depression. For a time they were the theatre world's most beautiful and eminent romantic couple: Sir Laurence and Lady Olivier, but here we have the inner story and by that night in 1960 they were already living apart. Olivier wanted to marry Joan Plowright and Leigh was in a relationship with actor Jack Merivale (which was to last until her death).
Leigh's triumphs in Gone With the Wind and A Streetcar Named Desire seem as nothing compared with her need for Olivier and her struggle against her condition which led to electro-convulsive therapy and other savage treatment.
In playing her, Susie Lindeman adopts a high girlish voice and rapid delivery much like Vivien Leigh's own. She was slower in her American roles but try a scene from Caesar and Cleopatra and Linderman's accuracy become apparent. However, it proceeds at such a spanking pace that it is not easy to catch everything.
It certainly matches her manic moods but there is little respite from this neurotic energy, which is also reflected in the dressing and undressing that writer / director Macdonald makes an integral part of the performance.
The glamorous gilt and red plush setting, the constant recourse to the gin bottle match expectations and we are given a glimpse into her professional insecurity. Her self-doubt at her own abilities is reflected in her asking Bernard Shaw if she was good enough to play his Cleopatra, only to be told it was so well written anyone could play it, but it was Kenneth Tynan's dismissal of her talent that really rankled.
We get all this, and more, Lindeman even manages to suggest Leigh's feline beauty. "I seem to be standing outside myself and I can't get back in" she tells us. How could she not win our sympathy? But this is too much anguish. We see little of the character that captured hearts and kept her first husband a devoted friend and Merivale beside her through all their tribulations.
Reviewer: Howard Loxton