Dear Elizabeth at the Gate Theatre
From 1947 to 1977, Robert Lowell and Elizabeth Bishop wrote each other more than 400 letters. They appeared to transcend the boundaries of love, friendship and companionship to form a bond that some may only find in fiction. It is no wonder that Sarah Ruhl thought their relationship should be the basis of this remarkable play.
The way the piece is constructed may come across as a somewhat basic idea, but the results are truly emotive and gripping. Each night, a pair of actors – who have never seen or read lines together – come onto the stage and assume the roles of Elizabeth and Robert (or Carl, as he likes to be called). Both are undoubtedly nervous and unprepared, but that just adds to the beauty and rawness of the production. What’s even more touching is that both performers start by reading out a letter that one has written for the other. Immediately, the show highlights what we have lost with the decline of letter-writing.
In the performance we attended, Elizabeth was played by Jade Anouka and Robert by Jonjo O’Neill. Both actors brought a tremendous level of skill, passion and emotion to their roles, so much so that you could easily be convinced that they had rehearsed this in some capacity. Directions were given in the form of stage prompts, which added a touch of humour to proceedings – especially when on the of actors had to do something quite unexpected like dowse himself in a bottle of water.
Ruhl and the team at Gate Theatre have expertly turned a collection of letters between two long-distance friends into a heartfelt production. The audience and the actors involved are all taken through a ride of pain, love and loss, during which they get to experience what is a very ordinary, yet extraordinary companionship. Dear Elizabeth brings to life this unseen world between Lowell and Bishop, intertwining some of the finest poems of the 20th century with the minds that created them.
Amaliah S Marmon-Halm
Photo: Helen Murray
Dear Elizabeth is at the Gate Theatre from 17th January until 9th February 2019. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here. The cast will be played by two different actors in each performance. The featured image shows Shalisha James-Davis.