Production: Wit
Venue: Drama Barn
Rating: *****

“Nothing but a breath – a comma – separates life from life everlasting. It’s very simple really: it’s a comma, a pause.” Margaret Edson’s Wit, under the direction of Charles Rivington, was a haunting performance. The play tells the story of the last few months of Dr. Vivian Bearing’s life, struggling with cancer treatment. She is a world-renowned specialist in the Holy Sonnets of John Donne and intersperses the play with recited fragments of his poetry.

The intimate nature of the Drama Barn allows for an immediacy in the performance that perhaps would not be as well-portrayed in a larger setting. The audience comes in to a room with nothing more than a hospital bed, a few chairs and a saline drip. This sets the scene for Bearing’s slow and painful fight with Cancer. While both Alistair Kerr and Henri Ward were very convincing as her somewhat callous doctors, the play would not have been half as spell-binding without Veronica Hare in her role as Dr. Vivian Bearing. Edson’s script may not have been carried off by a lesser actor however Hare was flawless in her delivery, able to carry off both moments of intense pain and loneliness and the play’s title theme, wit.

Bearing realised that her life would be “made up of words” on her fifth birthday. The brilliant decision to project one of the Holy Sonnets on the wall behind her literally covered her in words, striking home her position as wordsmith and scholar. Hare’s faultless movement between cancer patient and “Dr. Vivian Bearing, PhD” show Bearing’s personal journey from scholar to someone… human. This is subtly portrayed by the unsympathetic attitudes of her doctors, who are “how she once was”. Whilst one would not say she is getting a taste of her own medicine, seeing something like herself in her doctors (both of whom were once her students), seems to force a change within her. Their attitude is tempered by her nurse, Susie Monahan, played by Lauren Whitehead, who perfectly portrays the simple yet kind-hearted nurse who seems to be the only one looking out for Vivian Bearing’s welfare, including Bearing herself.

It is difficult to capture the exact mood of this play: it is both surprisingly funny and strangely heartbreaking at the same time. Bearing’s lonely end is tempered by the sarcasm which lightens the difficult subject matter however the end is both poignant and mesmerising. The play ends with a subtle comment on the nature of malpractice against vulnerable patients such as Bearing, who has no immediate family. The most evocative moment of the play occurs when Hare as Vivian Bearing slowly unties her hospital gown and walks naked towards a white light, in time to a beautiful piano solo. This image is one that lingers with the somewhat subdued audience by the end of the play. This raw depiction of a brilliant woman’s final moments was beautifully portrayed by a perfectly characterised cast.

If you would like to see something clever and witty, surprisingly comical and heartbreakingly sad, you should take the chance to see Wit at the Drama Barn this weekend.

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