Sylvia Plath, Your Words are Just Dust, Greenside at Nicolson Square, Review

Rating (out of 5)
Show info
The Bathtub Heroine
Alice Sylvester (writer, director, design, sound, music), Vernon Douglas (assistant director, lighting)
Alice Sylvester (Sylvia Plath)
Running time

“Can you understand? Someone, somewhere, can you understand me a little, love me a little? For all my despair, I love life.”

Fifty four years since her tragic death, aged just 30, Sylvia Plath continues to haunt our culture like a mythical, glamourised icon, as we try to unveil the elusive identity of the “mad girl,” the genius poet. Through understanding her turbulent early life, her obsession with death, we can appreciate the deeper, darker subtext of her poetry, stories and fiction.

The play begins with the rhythmic clickety click of a typewriter and in the shadows we see the hunched figure of Sylvia lying huddled in a bathtub: a solitary, warm place to hide away and think – “Life is not what I idealised, what I expected.”

Dressed in a neat checked skirt and wool cardigan, Alice Sylvester as Sylvia, steps out of the bath and back to happier, carefree college days. In a charming scene she portrays Esther Greenwood, her alter ego heroine in “The Bell Jar,” on a date with Buddy Willard, a medical student. He describes her poems as “sweet,” and suggests that instead she could be a doctor’s wife. But Esther plans to travel, teach literature and spend her life writing, to which Buddy rudely retorts,“Your poems are just dust”.

For this autobiographical novel, Plath admitted that she threw together events from her own life, fictionalising to add colour, to show how isolated a person feels when suffering depression. Likewise, this portrait of Sylvia pin points the experiences from childhood to marriage and mental breakdown, as she sits at her desk to type out five key chapters of her life.

It starts with her German father, a scientist, the man who deserted her aged ten in sudden death, as related in “Daddy” with such cold hearted honesty: every syllable.. bees, bumble bees, black boots .. is almost spat out in raw anger. Chapter 2: As a student, the lights of New York throw her into a fashionable, literary lifestyle, a time to dream as she looks out at the city streets from her apartment tower.

Chapter 3, 1956: with a perfect jazz music soundtrack, Sylvia is at Cambridge University, where, at a party, in a slinky LBD, and slightly tipsy on a glass of wine, she meets Ted Hughes - “ love sick at first sight.” This is a brilliantly dramatised vignette in which we are totally drawn into the sultry mood of their first, fateful, brief encounter. Then we follow her journey through the trauma and turbulent final years of her life.

“Sylvia Plath, Your Words are Just Dust” is an extraordinary theatrical debut which Sylvester devised as a project during her degree course, (script, costumes, set, sound effects and music), directed with intellect and imagination.

This is a truly hypnotic performance, in which we witness her growing despair and desperation, often struggling to speak, stuttering, stammering words as if unable to express herself, trying to find her own unique poetic voice. With personal, pertinent insight, Alice captures the troubled mind and fractured heart of Sylvia Plath with passion and pathos: a short, sharp shocking piece of literary drama.

21 – 26 August, 2017 @ 18.30
Ticket Prices: £10 (£8).
Age guidance: 14+