Cast: Lynda Baron, Chris Larkin, Zoë Wanamaker
Seen on: March 09, 2015
Stevie is the story of poet Stevie Smith; an eccentric, asexual woman who works as a secretary at a publisher and writes poetry in her spare time. Stevie the woman lives in Palmers Green with her Auntie, Stevie the poet-on-the-rise is a social eccentric butterflying through Central London. The play tells her story from childhood to death, with her own poets interspersing the storytelling.
I went to see Stevie during the first few days of previews and while I understand it will go through several stages of changes and amends until opening night – and sometimes even after that – I do have to admit I wasn’t really gripped by the play. The first half was, dare I say it, actually quite boring. Zoë Wanamaker doesn’t feel right for the woman we are supposed to believe she is; her Stevie seems too old for the part of her life she is talking about. If this is on purpose and the audience is meant to just sit and listen to an older Stevie regale about her younger years, it is not clear from the dialogue and monologue, and the whole things feel disjointed and it drags.
The second half is much better. Zoë Wanamaker’s Stevie feels appropriate, fitting. There is true wit and humour in the narrative and dramaturgy. Chris Larkin plays several roles, but his part as Stevie’s exasperated gay friend from the social circles of London lifts the play to a new, though still not too impressive, height. Not even Lynda Baron’s Auntie’s demise and ultimate death brings any kind of emotion to the play; it feels flat and forced, as if it’s a bit that we all have to suffer through to get to the final scene, which is incidentally the best scene of the whole play.
Stevie’s recount of her day at Buckingham Palace with the Queen is funny, heartwarming and moving, all at the same time. Zoë Wanamaker’s Stevie is perfect here, during Stevie’s final years; old, exhausted, sarcastic and worn, and it finally clicks into place. Too bad it is only for that one final scene, after two hours of suppressed yawns.