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The World's Wife, Trafalgar Studios | reviews, news & interviews

The World's Wife, Trafalgar Studios

The World's Wife, Trafalgar Studios

Linda Marlowe's multi-woman show is an exquisite treat

Linda Marlowe: brings 19 characters from Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy's retelling of history, mythology and the Bible to life

If ever you wanted to understand the art of acting and how it gives life to words on the page, this is a good place to start. Actress Linda Marlowe, under the direction of Di Sherlock, has adapted Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy’s 1999 collection, The World's Wife - which gives a wry, subversive and feminist voice to characters (real or imagined) written out of history, mythology and the Bible - and gives the words form on stage. It is an exquisite treat.

Playing 19 characters from Delilah and Mrs Herod to Frau Freud and the Kray Sisters, Marlowe expertly goes from one to another with just the slightest shifts in body language, accent and costume - the addition of a scarf, veil or cardigan - aided by a beautifully simple video and animation backdrop by Anna McManus and Andy DeVries.

The monologues are of varying lengths and by turns funny, haunting and thought-provoking. Madame Quasimodo is vexed by the time her husband spends with the bells, or rather “belles”, and we learn of her murderous revenge on those she supposes to be the real loves of his life. Likewise, Mrs Tiresias has no truck with her husband’s change from male to female - “Then he started his period/One week in bed/Two doctors in/Three painkillers four times a day” - while Delilah is portrayed as a no-nonsense Essex hairdresser, with a predictable outcome. As for Mrs Midas, full of dolours about her husband’s supposedly lucky touch, Duffy’s point that all that glisters is not gold is made with just a small piece of punctuation - “We all have wishes, granted/But who has wishes granted?”

There is much sly sexual humour - Queen Kong certainly finds use for a Fay Wray-man in Manhattan with small, flexible fingers that beat a gorilla's paw any day - but also a heartbreaking retelling of Medusa’s tale in which there are no laughs. My favourite characters are a Eurydice who is really rather annoyed that the tediously romantic Orpheus followed her into the underworld; a brief outing for Mrs Charles Darwin who, we must deduce, inspired her husband’s seminal work, On the Origin of Species, when she says: “I went to the zoo/I said to him/Something about that chimpanzee over there/Reminds me of you”; and Frau Freud, who runs knowingly (and appreciatively) through a long list of words for the male member, with which her husband has an obsessive fixation. But possibly I just dreamt that.

Of course it’s Duffy’s words that shine here, but few actors could give them such vibrant and enthralling life as Marlowe.

At the Trafalgar Studios, London SW1 until 6 February. Book tickets here. Then touring information here

Buy Carol Ann Duffy's work here

Buy Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species here

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