Established wisdom says that you should never meet your heroes. What happens, then, when your greatest hero insists on meeting you? In this thoughtful, warm-hearted one-woman play, an actor called Juliet tells the story of poet Edith Sitwell – but soon finds the character she’s created coming imperiously to life. The result is a comment on the nature of biography, but also a celebration of imperfection: a call to acknowledge the truth about others, and love yourself for who you already are.
Juliet, the character, isn’t all that great an actor – which sets her apart from Jules Craig, the real-world woman who penned and performs the script. Craig makes Juliet loveable yet flawed, like the earnest friend you desperately want to succeed but know in your heart never will. The set-up paves the way for a slew of Brighton-friendly in-jokes: many of us will recognise the portrayal of Juliet’s world, where everyone’s been on TV but few have truly achieved their dreams.
Juliet's awkwardness contrasts with the haughty Edith, and – later – with an entertainingly no-nonsense interpretation of Queen Elizabeth I. Neither woman is quite how Juliet imagined them, yet the similarities between them inevitably lead to a grudging form of respect. The characters are all well-drawn but could, perhaps, be delineated more clearly; the plot turns on the fact that the three women resemble each other, and I needed a few more cues to stave off the resulting confusion.
As Edith, Craig cuts an elegant figure, and that unconventional stylishness is matched by a gorgeous stage picture too. Katherine Richards' design finds a timeless balance between simplicity and decadence; filled out in striking blacks and whites, it's dominated by a portrait of the poet at the rear of the stage. And underpinning the storyline, there’s a different kind of beauty – a call to recognise the failings of the people we admire and, by extension, learn to accept ourselves.
So this is a sweet and charming piece, received with considerable warmth by a packed-out Marlborough crowd. But if the truth be told, before it goes in front of a less sympathetic audience, it could do with quite a bit of tweaking. The dialogue scenes – where Craig flips back and forth between Juliet and Edith – grow wearying after a while, lending the whole show a frenetic quality which isn’t entirely in keeping with the tenor of the plot. The funniest moments come when a single character gets a couple of minutes alone on the stage; the same technique could surely draw out a little more poignancy, too.
And, though I nodded approvingly at the play’s morals, the memory of them hasn’t really stayed with me. We need a clearer progression, I think: a neater journey for Juliet, to tie together and help reinforce the script’s fairly complex themes. So this doesn’t feel like quite the finished product – but it’s a play with heart, built around a delightful and rewarding concept. It’s a work poised at an exciting juncture, with plenty of directions it could travel in.