Monday, November 28

Dear Elizabeth – The Gate @ Theatro Technis

Dear Elizabeth (written by Sarah Ruhl) is an exploration of the deep yet complicated friendship between American poets Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell. Ruhl’s script is a vast selection of the letters the two wrote to each other over several decades, and each night a fresh pair of unprepared actors arrive to take on the roles of Bishop and Lowell, unaware of what they’ll be performing.

This interesting if not risky concept means that each audience will have a somewhat different experience, and while the letters are funny and searingly honest there wasn’t enough there for me to make up for the lack of characterisation. I found it frustrating being offered a window into the lives of two fascinating people but not being able to dig deeper into their personalities and motivations.

That said, tonight’s leads – Martins Imhangbe and Roberta Livingston – cheerfully took on the challenge of stepping on stage with no idea of the performance they’re about to give. The ease with which they interacted having just met as strangers and their gentle humour reassured me that whatever happened, we’d be in safe hands.

The performance benefits enormously from an excellent backstage team who manage seamless prop changes and light and sound effects. The stage is simply set, and I really enjoyed the playful use of props to fill some gaps and bring some of the incidents hinted at in the letters to life. These are all a little abstract and while some come off brilliantly, others left me feeling a bit unsure of what had just happened. The piece looks at some challenging issues including suicide and addiction, but still manages to be lighthearted and witty. Overall, it was an ambitious undertaking that wouldn’t be up everyone’s street but was enjoyable enough to pique my interest in Bishop’s work in particular and so provided me with a new avenue for poetry reading.

Dear Elizabeth is on at The Gate @ Theatro Technis until 18th September

Reviewer: Zoe Meeres

Reviewed: 7th September 2021

North West End UK Rating: ★★★