Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The unconventional woman

There are two types of relationships: ones that bump along and ones that speed head on into collisions only to ricochet and hit the road again. Now being half Italian and half New Yorker (very different to American), I have more than my fair share of skid marks. I tell (if not try and convince) myself that this is because I am passionate and emotionally engaged, which I realise can sometimes be disguised as erratic and volatile with a penchant for drink fuelled soliloquies (also termed rants). But at least there is never a dull moment.

And such is the underlying theme of the Almeida's production of Tom and Viv, albeit played out to a tragic end in the play about T.S. Eliot and his whirlwind first marriage to Vivienne Haigh-Wood. Whilst there will always be a place amongst the Radio 4 listener set for fringe, earnestly literate plays about famous, cultured people having nervous breakdowns, Michael Hasting's production opens with surprising fluidity and closes with powerful (but not overwhelming) emotion. Think One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest crossed with Iris, but without floods of tears (and I cried at Billy Elliott so take comfort).

T.S. Eliot was a classic Anglophile American, determined to become 'more English than the English' (think Madonna not yours truly; I don't do horses or the country very well). Tom passed his domestic life on automatic pilot, while his mind found refuge and flourished in the Waste Land. As he says to Viv in the first few lines of the play he finds it "an enormous effort to be trivial" with people. This Olympian diffidence, the script suggests, was sufficient to make him a source of ridicule to his in-laws ("every family needs a wild crazed sort of black sheep")-and perhaps enough to drive his wife mad.

Like Marco Pierre and his wife, Tom and Viv were prone to crash tests. Viv was a feisty, young bohemian aristocrat who was eccentric and experimenting. She was filled with a vivaciousness and charm that eventually descended into wild mood swings attributable to a severe hormonal imbalance (to which some of us can relate on a monthly basis), made tragically worse by the doctors of the time who prescribed her with alcohol and opium (so this is where they first discovered the effects of female binge drinking). Their turbulent marriage was the inspiration of some of Eliot's finest work, and despite the complex nature of their relationship he spoke of Viv as someone who gave him everything he wanted, and to whom he owed everything. (But, not to worry, the prose is definitely T.S. Eliot and not Bryan Adams.)

The first half of the play left me beguiled as to the oddness of their coupling, his Angelina to her Brad, and slightly distracted by the affected tone of speech (many an "Absolutely!" said in posh sing-song) which seemed more than a little artificial. But the play is set in the garden party environs of Oxbridge and Bloomsbury during the first half of the last century, so after a few minutes you forgive and forget.

Whilst at once a disturbing indictment of the treatment of women at the time, the most powerful moments were watching Viv in all her pugnacity try and unearth the passion of Tom the poet from beneath his mortician-like persona. Similar to what I suspect Becks undertakes trying to unlock Posh the Spice Girl from his turned morticia-like WAG.

Tom and Viv is a brilliant evening of theatre and essential viewing for any T.S. Eliot fans, for anyone interested in the study of English behaviour as well as anyone fascinated (or tormented) by unconventional women.

Book now:
Runs 12 Sept- 4 Nov
Press night is 22 Sept (Friday) so no formal reviews allowed until then (that's why we have blogs). Book before for best availability.
Seats from £6-£29


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The film from mid 1990s is excellent too. William Defoe plays Thomas Stears Eliot.

1:58 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

how is that a night out imbibing with the girls never results in a split second turnaround from happy evening to the 'ranting'(why is that only women seem accused of this?) & ruined evenings that occur with one's boyfriend??

2:38 pm  
Anonymous Charlie said...

Thanks City Slicker. On your recommendation I now have a date with my kleenex box at the Almeida Tuesday next week!

3:00 pm  
Anonymous Ted said...

I thought research shows that men have less impulse control after drinking and that women tend to have an opposite reaction. Isnt that why it has long been believed that this is why men tend to get into more trouble (such as fighting) when drinking than do women?
Why then are women notoriously rubbish at being drunk?

3:08 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Put that in your poetry pipe and smoke it!

3:29 pm  
Anonymous Ella said...

Time you enjoyed wasting is not wasted time
~T.S. Eliot

3:32 pm  
Blogger Miss Understood said...

I just have a penchant for drink...the ranting seems to slip into the equation when I've got my head turned. I wish I lived closer to London than to Threshers.

4:08 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In the film Viv's brother says at the end , when he visits his fading sister at the hospital: "Vivien was, of course, the strong one. She made cowards of us all."

4:25 pm  
Blogger City Slicker said...

Check out the Guardian's just posted ode to theatre blog reviews:
where serious theatre journalism is headed these days

We second that motion!

5:45 pm  
Blogger City Slicker said...

Sorry just me again. The play got me interested in historic drug treatments and as such I came across this cool blog filled with old drug advertisements.
Made me just twitch for a minute about my fast growing Nurofen Plus addiction. What will they blame it for in 20 years time? Ah, but they do complement a glass of wine so very nicely.

6:31 pm  
Blogger ems said...

English behaviour and unconventional women (I'd quite like to be one but suffer from eldest sibling syndrome meaning I'm responsible and sensible) have me hooked. I'll be looking for those tickets in a mo.

7:26 pm  
Anonymous Frank N Stein said...

Great blog here
Cool how you jumped from Kate Moss to TS Eliot. Most unusual digressions one would say :-)

7:58 pm  
Anonymous Gina said...

"We think of the key,each in his prison
Thinking of the key each confirms a prison"

That was TS Eliot from Wasteland. Also how I feel at work today.

Will check out this play. The film was good.

9:51 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In case you didn't know City Slicker a link to your review is posted on!

10:04 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey, thanks for your lovely comment on my blog - will be back soon!

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2:06 pm  
Blogger City Slicker said...

For anyone who feels comforted by a professional review, obe from the indie here: Tom and Viv review

12:56 pm  

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