No theatre challenges theatrical form and shape quite as fiercely as the Young Vic, reinventing itself with every production staged there. It's not just the configuration of the auditorium, which changes from show to show, but also the bold interventions and inventions of staging techniques. Yerma, for instance, was staged inside a clinical glass box, to which we were positioned as rapt outside observers; now for Wings, a poetic play about a woman losing her sense of herself after she suffers a stroke, Juliet Stevenson takes flight in every sense, strapped to a harness that has her swinging, soaring and twirling in every direction over the stage.
It's an incredibly bold staging gesture, or series of them, and Juliet Stevenson - now white-haired and 60 years old - fearlessly doing these acrobatic turns that often find her suspended upside down. Whether or not it entirely serves Arthur Kopit's 1978 play is another question: sometimes it feels like it might be overwhelming it instead of honouring it.
Yet there's no denying the bravura, compulsive watchability of Stevenson's ferociously concentrated performance. As with Beckett's Happy Days, also directed by Natalie Abrahami, in which she previously starred at this venue in 2014 and in a return run in 2015, she is a woman trying to hold onto life as it seems to be slipping from her grasp, which is at once frightening and thrilling to observe.
Wings runs at the Young Vic until 4th November.
What the popular press said...
"The force of Natalie Abrahami’s production is visual. It is powered by the extraordinary sight of Stevenson – completely in control of breath and limb and yet playing a woman who is out of touch with her brain." - Susannah Clapp, The Observer (three stars)
"Thanks to Stevenson’s remarkable performance, Emily comes across as frightened, funny, brave, and heart-wringing – often simultaneously." - Paul Taylor, the Independent (four stars)
"Natalie Abrahami’s production works hard to elucidate Kopit’s occasionally over-intellectualised script, while Michael Levine’s clean, linear set design contrasts clearly with Emily’s mental disconnections." Ben Lawrence, the Telegraph (three stars)