Review: Stevie Smith Tribute, The Minerva

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Stevie Smith is one of my top five poets, though some might rightly claim that the shadow of death woven through her words gives her poems a morbid air. And the same is true of Hugh Whitemore’s gentle tribute at The Minerva.

Stevie’s story is told, mostly through direct address to the audience, with a mixture of her own poetry and Whitemore’s gentle words by a cast of three who spend much of the performance dipping their toes in the waters of theatrical perfection.

Chris Larkin characterises all the men in Stevie’s story and is given much of the poetry to speak, which he does with clarity and understanding.

Lynda Baron gives us the journey of the Lion Aunt from ballsy Northern independence to dependent, frail old woman with pitch-perfect playing but – unsurprisingly – the evening belongs to Zoe Wanamaker as shambling, rambling, ciggy-puffing Stevie.

The play is virtually a monologue by Wanamaker with interruptions – and she never falters. She, too, has the measure of Stevie’s child-like verse.

Christopher Morahan’s direction is no-frills and all the better for it – and Simon Higlett’s beautiful, busy set adds atmosphere but never distracts.

See it if you can.