Young Vic Theatre Autumn 2017
Arthur Kopit's Wings began in 1977 as a radio play before being adapted for the stage. Having heard it on radio and seen it twice now on stage, I suspect it would have been better off remaining in its original form.
Wings is very much a play made up of, and largely about, words, and almost entirely the internal monologue of its central character. Very little happens before out eyes because it is all going on in her mind.
The woman, we gradually come to understand, has suffered a stroke, and for the first half of the one-hour play is unable to get coherent words out or to process the words coming in from others.
Gradually she achieves a partial recovery, to the level of being able to understand what others say and to be handicapped only be the frustrating refusal of some words to come to her mouth when she calls for them.
Kopit gives some context for the courage and determination that make her journey possible by giving her a backstory as a pioneering stunt pilot, what in less politically correct times was called an aviatrix.
Images and memories of her flying days blend into her stream-of-consciousness monologue, and flying alone is offered as a metaphor for the isolation and loneliness of a stroke.
But how do you put this on a stage? I'm not sure any director has ever solved that problem.
In what I am afraid comes across as a desperate attempt to introduce something visual into this play, director Natalie Abrahami has hung Juliet Stevenson (impeccable as always) on Peter Pan wires so that she flies, floats, tumbles and staggers in the air throughout, her feet only very occasionally touching the ground.
Though clearly meant to be a metaphor for the woman's sense of being lost and disconnected, the device is just a little too see-how-clever-we-are for its own good and the good of the play. It makes its point within the first few moments and then lingers, to ever-diminishing effect, until it just gets in the way.
Speaking what must be nine-tenths of the words in the play – there are brief contributions from nurses, speech therapists and other patients – Juliet Stevenson struggles to create and sustain a reality singlehandedly.
Her talent and charisma are unquestionable and her dedication admirable. But I'm afraid the impression you will come away with most strongly is respect for the commitment that allowed her to add circus skills to her repertoire.
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Review - Wings - Young Vic Theatre 2017