TOM AND VIV
Marlborough Dramatic Club at Brentwood School
Fifty years after the poet T S Eliot died, the Marlborough have revived this fascinating piece by Michael Hastings, tracing the tragic story of his disastrous marriage to Vivienne Haig-Wood.
There are two dozen separate scenes, and Vernon Keeble-Watson's production does not entirely overcome the loss of impetus that implies. The use of music at the start is inspired, but alas not sustained through the many black-outs and scene changes.
None-the-less, it is a polished production, with superb period costumes, and a stunning central performance from Sara Thompson as Viv, the spirited governess who sets her cap at the poet from St Louis; her body, though, is prey to many infirmities, and her mind “goes into unreason”. Thompson carefully delineates her decline as the decades pass; a moving and entirely credible depiction.
Her Tom is Tim Murphy, who suggests the social and sexual ineptitude of the very private poet who spends much of his honeymoon alone under Eastbourne pier. Though I had imagined a more desiccated, more patrician character.
The sadly mismatched pair are surrounded by some excellent supporting actors. Shealagh White as Viv's despairing mother, brave face and refined tone. Craig Whitney – oddly reminiscent of Eliot facially – plays her affable but obtuse brother, and Vikki Luck is Louise, the girl from the pharmacy who remains loyally at the sick woman's side and also carries some of the narration.
There are many marvellous moments: Viv's larky, flaky approach to life and love – Gert and Daisy, Ethel Le Neve, chocolate – the soliloquy in St Peter's Church, the “ace” [offstage] party of decadence and dropped names from the literary set, the whoopee cushions. Some scenes are very short – a table is brought on for a bridge game lasting seconds, a splendid plate camera for a hasty portrait.
An intriguing exploration of the private life of a great artist, but chiefly an unflinching study of “moral insanity”, class conflict and the breakdown of a marriage. Hardly anything, though, is said about her claims to be the poet's muse, catalyst for the disillusion and despair of the Waste Land...