The World’s Wife at Milton Court Concert Hall
Behind every great man is a great woman, so they say. Pity that these latter main characters are too often omitted from the narratives passed down through generations – it’s sadly a well-known trope we are fully aware of in our day and age. Or are we? The World’s Wife, directed by Jorinde Keesmaat, is a poignant and melodic attempt to reclaim those accounts of reflective, playful, powerful, dominant, bitter, sorrowful roles that the past’s storytelling owes to women. From reversed childhood fables to Greek myths, the selection of 11 poems of the 31 from the namesake collection by Carol Ann Duffy spans the life of the famous and less familiar beings.
On-stage, the leading voice splendidly impersonating all of them, with their distinctions in tone and energy, is baritone Lucia Lucas. Her robust performance is at one with the finely tuned Ragazze Quartet, carrying the force of a full orchestra. And, indeed, this not a hyperbolic comparison, rather an accurate impression; it’s especially moving towards the end, where the support of loop pedals, smartly incorporated, overlaps through the room first Lucia’s lines, now the breathy movement of bows across strings, now the echo of a sharp cello passage. However, there is a sort of imbalance between the various elements, with an unsupported asymmetry throughout. Rage goes high, followed by tenderness in harmony, but it’s not fully cohesive, which shatters the vehement effect and the more gentle sequences.
The opening, Little Red-Cap, features only one violin and voice, while the physicality of the piece, delivered through movements and props, is built alongside the narrative of the poetry. Mrs Aesop amusingly reveals Duffy’s preposterous inventiveness, surpassed only by the short, pungent and fun Mrs Icarus. A sentimental composition inspired by the relationship with an artist, writer and lover is Anne Hathaway, whereas Salome‘s moment is merrily frivolous, matched by a more agile musical style. Thunderous depths are attained in Medusa, both in the resounding words of revenge and in the mighty delivery by the quartet: it’s a potent cry, a roar of anguish and defiance.
The brilliant choice and use of props on stage speaks to the disparate and sometimes contrasting female symbols. Particularly charged is the soil: malleable, dirty, chaotic, warm, fertile and a portion of Mother Nature, accompanying the enveloping and whispering presence of Demeter.
The work may risk, at times, excessively modern extremism in its execution, but, still, it develops into an assertive ode to oneness and the fortitude of womanhood.
Photo: Ash Knotek/Barbican
The World’s Wife is at Milton Court Concert Hall on 2nd May 2023 only. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.