The Women’s Theatre Group is embarking on a new kind of venture, a musical show of Stevie Smith’s poems.
So how do you turn poems into a play and what is this play of poems going to be about?
To answer the first question, Stevie Smith’s poems are very funny, scorching about those things in life she despised, and tender about those things she thought mattered. She obviously sought the unusual in life, so her poems are peopled both with the most colourful eccentrics and the people life tends to forget. Many of her poems, certainly the ones we have chosen, are un-‘poetry-like’, because they take the form of brash statements delivered by the most extraordinary people, revealing their prejudices, insecurities, quirks and foibles. So turning them into a play is a matter of making her crazy personalities come to life, and then complementing her idiosyncratic writing with her own eccentric performance style. The WTG has a lot of bizarreness just dying to find that platform.
It’s going to be very largely about people like Stevie Smith herself, who rejected the norms of marriage and children, choosing instead to live alone, pursue many different kinds of relationships, and basically, live exactly as they please, letting the world go hang. Bigots feature quite strongly in the poems and will do so in the play. The upper class gentleman who neglects his wife, and people with pretentious natures who won’t relate to us lesser mortals. Above all, it will be a play championing as Stevie Smith did, the right to be single and proud of it, rather than ashamed, and giving a voice to those people who are too timid to speak up for themselves.
So what kind of form will this show take? It’s only possible to quote Stevie Smith herself and say: “Work it out for yourself.”
Stevie Smith is commercial. There has been a film and a play now there’s us. Whenever I describe the project to anyone, they prick up their ears at the drop of the golden name. It’ll be funny, it’ll be strange, and as anyone who knows Stevie Smith’s poems will know, it’ll be moving.