03 January 2009

Robert Shaw, Director, on Sylvia Plath's "Three Women"

I received the following letter from Robert Shaw, Director of the revival of Sylvia Plath's "Three Women". "Three Women" commences a five week run at London' s Jermyn Street Theatre this Monday, 5 January 2009. I am posting it on the blog with his permission. The letter, which was attached in an email from Clare Butler, Press Officer for Inside Intelligence, was titled "Why Three Women".

Dear Peter,

I first came upon the text of Sylvia Plath's verse play Three Women in summer 2006, while I was on holiday in Croatia. I didn't know she'd written a play, so for a theatre director always on the lookout for projects, the best ones that give you that heady buzz of excitement when you think of them, it was like a gift. As soon as I read it, I realised that this was a text to uplift and inspire readers and audiences. I had what Peter Brook calls that instinctive knowledge that this is the play that has to be done and it has to be done NOW.

The word now, of course, is relative… It wasn't that quick to get permission. The final agreement only came through in June 2008. I was really in a hurry by then.

The play was written for radio and was first broadcast on August 19 1962, with a cast including the legendary British screen actor Jill Balcon. It describes the emotional journey of three women through pregnancy. One of them gives birth successfully, one of them has a miscarriage and one of them, a student, has to give her baby up for adoption. There was no legal abortion in the days when Plath wrote.

Plath lays bare the inner lives of these three women. She expresses, I think, what every pregnant woman knows but don't usually find the words for. In a way, she validates the everyday routine experiences of being pregnant. Well, that's what this man believes. And there are some great lines and extraordinary images.

What it certainly does is create a response. People behave differently after reading it. When I asked the receptionists at the Croatian hotel to print it out for me, their only interest was in how much they could charge me per page. There were several pages and their eyes were alight in anticipation of the money to be made from this tourist. When I went back to collect it, they wouldn't take a penny from me for printing quite a long document. Their eyes were alight in an entirely different way. It's been like that ever since.

1700 actors (all of them women, I think) applied for the three roles, from as far away as New York and Los Angeles, a well-known film actor among them. How could I afford to employ a movie star? But what a tribute to Sylvia…

Taking a radio play written in verse and making it work on stage is a risk. I have been blessed with the best cast any director could hope for. It's the sort of risk that has to be taken, thrilling and terrifying, inevitable and impossible to predict the result. Rehearsing this show has provided the excitement that only the theatre at its best can give. And it leaves me with a yearning thought - what wonderful dramatic writing would Sylvia Plath have produced if only we could have had her for longer?

Robert Shaw, Director

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Publications & Acknowledgements

  • BBC Four.A Poet's Guide to Britain: Sylvia Plath. London: BBC Four, 2009. (Acknowledged in)
  • Biography: Sylvia Plath. New York: A & E Television Networks, 2005. (Photographs used)
  • Connell, Elaine. Sylvia Plath: Killing the angel in the house. 2d ed. Hebden Bridge: Pennine Pens, 1998. (Acknowledged in)
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives 3." Plath Profiles 4. Summer 2011: 119-138.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives 4: Looking for New England." Plath Profiles 5. Summer 2012: 11-56.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives 5: Reanimating the Past." Plath Profiles 6. Summer 2013: 27-62.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives, Redux." Plath Profiles 3. Summer 2010: 232-246.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives." Plath Profiles 2. Summer 2009: 183-208.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. These Ghostly Archives: The Unearthing of Sylvia Plath. Oxford: Fonthill, 2017.
  • Death Be Not Proud: The Graves of Poets. New York: Poets.org. (Photographs used)
  • Doel, Irralie, Lena Friesen and Peter K. Steinberg. "An Unacknowledged Publication by Sylvia Plath." Notes & Queries 56:3. September 2009: 428-430.
  • Elements of Literature, Third Course. Austin, Tex. : Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 2009. (Photograph used)
  • Gill, Jo. "Sylvia Plath in the South West." University of Exeter Centre for South West Writing, 2008. (Photograph used)
  • Helle, Anita Plath. The Unraveling Archive: Essays on Sylvia Plath. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2007. (Photographs used, acknowledged in)
  • Helle, Anita. "Lessons from the Archive: Sylvia Plath and the Politics of Memory". Feminist Studies 31:3. Fall 2005: 631-652.. (Acknowledged in)
  • Holden, Constance. "Sad Poets' Society." Science Magazine. 27 July 2008. (Photograph used)
  • Making Trouble: Three Generations of Funny Jewish Women, Motion Picture. Directed by Rachel Talbot. Brookline (Mass.): Jewish Women's Archive, 2007. (Photograph used)
  • Plath, Sylvia, and Karen V. Kukil. The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath, 1950-1962. New York: Anchor Books, 2000. (Acknowledged in)
  • Plath, Sylvia, and Peter K. Steinberg and Karen V. Kukil (eds.). The Letters of Sylvia Plath, Volume 1, 1940-1956. London: Faber, 2017. Forthcoming.
  • Plath, Sylvia. Glassklokken. Oslo: De norske Bokklubbene, 2004. (Photograph used on cover)
  • Reiff, Raychel Haugrud. Sylvia Plath: The Bell Jar and Poems (Writers and Their Works). Marshall Cavendish Children's Books, 2008.. (Images provided)
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "'A Fetish: Somehow': A Sylvia Plath Bookmark." Court Green 13. 2017.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "'I Should Be Loving This': Sylvia Plath's 'The Perfect Place' and The Bell Jar." Plath Profiles 1. Summer 2008: 253-262.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "'They Had to Call and Call': The Search for Sylvia Plath." Plath Profiles 3. Summer 2010: 106-132.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "A Perfectly Beautiful Time: Sylvia Plath at Camp Helen Storrow." Plath Profiles 4. Summer 2011: 149-166.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "Proof of Plath." Fine Books & Collections 9:2. Spring 2011: 11-12.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "Sylvia Plath." The Spoken Word: Sylvia Plath. London: British Library, 2010.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "Textual Variations in The Bell Jar Publications." Plath Profiles 5. Summer 2012.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "The Persistence of Plath." Fine Books & Collections. Autumn 2017: 24-29
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "This is a Celebration: A Festschrift for The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath." Plath Profiles 3 Supplement. Fall 2010: 3-14.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "Writing Life" [Introduction]. Sylvia Plath in Devon: A Year's Turning. Stroud, Eng.: Fonthill Media, 2014.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. Sylvia Plath (Great Writers). Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, 2004.