this 80s play, Michael Hastings examines the lives of Thomas S.
Eliot and his wife Vivienne Haigh-Wood, from their Oxford courtship
during WW1. Their ill-fated story is charted up until Viv's death
30 years later. The Unicorn's barebones setting, left spartan throughout,
proved a good dissection table for the couple's relationship. The
opening-night enjoyed a near-capacity audience, possibly curious
having seen the film Tom & Viv, released by Miramax a decade
their marriage, Tom and Viv meet her family, who adjust slowly to
this poet from St. Louis. Failing to comprehend Tom's intellect,
they are concerned mainly with their daughter's mind. Indeed, Tom
fails to communicate with her. His rigour - "it's such an effort
being trivial" - clashes with Viv's unpredictability. This
was the time of Tom's The Waste Land, a premonitory poem of disillusionment.
impotent, Tom turns outwards, first embracing Anglicanism, then
leaving for Harvard. He files for separation, rarely to see Viv
again. Her suffering and fear is apparent, "they want my mind."
A diagnosis of hormonal imbalance comes too late to save a marriage,
or perhaps her life. The play closes with her death in a mental
institution. One year later, in 1948, Tom wins the Nobel Prize.
This poignant divergence sums up the entire tragedy.
performance benefited from meticulous touches that enhanced involvement:
a steaming teapot, a clerk played by the prompt seated in the audience
... For a moment I was surprised to see a mediaeval ceiling when
I followed Maurice's eyes to a chandelier.
There was emotional involvement too: although Tom's inaccessibility
worked against him, I felt a pang for him kneeling at Viv's graveside.
It didn't matter that Tom lost his accent occasionally, and barely
aged. But I felt Viv's wit deserved more attention: it raised only
rare chuckles, chiefly because Tom was so bent on being grave. Even
so, the performance was practically hitch-less, the script itself
did much of the work, and the Company were just about word perfect.