If you were entirely unaware of the play Wit, by American playwright Margaret Edson, you could be forgiven for believing the play was not twenty years old. The issues and writing stand the test of time well, making this Clock and Spiel Production memorable.
Cheryl Ward plays Vivian Bearing, an academic who has at the play’s start been diagnosed with stage four metastatic ovarian cancer. She wryly notes to herself that there is no stage five. Her oncologist wants to start her on an experimental and aggressive treatment that leaves her depleted. We are told by Ward that Vivian’s story does not have a happy end.
Vivian’s story is told in flashbacks and she travels back in time to reveal her first engagements with language and her subsequent love of language. She becomes spellbound as a literature student by the metaphysical poetry of John Donne, and her love affair with his work sustains her. The wit is clear and abundant when she is rebuked by a senior professor as to the correct punctuation in her favourite sonnet: Death Be Not Proud. This very fitting sonnet is referenced throughout to good effect as Vivian lies dying.
Cheryl Ward as Vivian is superb. She has an arrogant countenance that is belied by her physical appearance – barefoot and in hospital gown throughout. While she is laid low by the disease, however, she comes to realise that she would prefer some small kindness from the attending doctors rather than rote intellectualism. In the end it is nurse Susie (Hailey McQueen) who provides the kindness and humanity that brings some small comfort to Vivian. McQueen is strict but kind as the compassionate nurse.
Director Helen Tonkin takes the audience through the last stages of Vivian’s life with great attention to vivid detail while the cast are equally up to the task providing great support in Vivian’s last days.
Wit is on until 26 Oct, for more information and tickets see: https://www.seymourcentre.com/events/event/wit/
Director: Helen Tonkin
Featuring: Matt Abotomey, Nyssa Hamilton, Chantelle Jamieson, Jan Langford-Penny, Yannick Lawry, Hailey McQueen, Shan-Ree Tan and Cheryl Ward
Above image by Alison Lee Rubie