Linda Marlowe’s solo performances have been one of the great enterprises in our theatre of the past ten years, and her latest, The World's Wife, based on a cycle of poems by the new laureate Carol Ann Duffy, is a brilliant summary of their virtues.
In giving the comic lie to the manly heroes they served and screwed, Marlowe’s women are sly, wicked, clever, beautiful, ecstatic and scheming. And they are presented in a fluent, graceful gallery of physical portraits using just a chair, a couple of scarves and much vocal variety.
It hadn’t occurred to me before how Mrs Freud’s hilarious litany of synonyms for the male member echoes a sketch of Barry Humphries, and Marlowe’s latent Australian inflections are put to good use elsewhere, too.
Her rolling, roaring Mrs Quasimodo is a delightful send-up of her longtime colleague Steven Berkoff, while sexual and simian status is artfully upturned when Mrs Kong holds her little ape man tamely in the palm of her hand.
And the strutting Kray sisters re-launch a suffragist view of underworld thuggery as startlingly as the voices of Salome, Delilah, Eurydice and Penelope are re-cast to release them from their shades and question their own imprisoning myths.
Marlowe’s performance was so astonishing in Edinburgh last summer that it slightly obscured the fact that the poems don’t have an organic forward momentum; she supplied it. She still does, but her director Di Sherlock has wisely toned down the aggressive side of the performance to suit the smaller Trafalgar studio, with a small sacrifice in theatricality.
This remains, though, one of the great virtuosic displays on the London stage, and Marlowe manages to combine the core of Duffy’s blazing femininity with a beguiling, siren-style elegance and physicality.
She begins by entering the dark wood of Little Red Cap’s nightmare and ends by welcoming home Demeter’s daughter Persephone, bare-footed and smiling, in the sunshine, simultaneously moral and moving.