By Suzannah Ball
Wings, a terrifying and truthful play by Arthur Kopit, was a masterpiece of sorts. The main character, an ex pilot named Emily Stilson and played by Juliet Stevenson, was artistically dangled above the stage for the play’s entire 75-minute run. Stevenson’s performance, bar her interesting American accent, was harrowing. Stevenson’s character has to battle the aftermath of a stroke, and is now unable to form correct or meaningful sentences without great difficulty and intense therapy. The audience is allowed into her fragmented and struggling subconscious as she attempts to regain her previous self.
The play, which was initially conceived by Kopit for radio, is, at the very least, elaborate in its staging. The director, Natalie Abrahami, clutches on the fact that Kopit’s heroine was an aviator pilot, and as a result flies Stevenson mercilessly above and around the stage. Alongside the dangling star you also witness a very mobile platform stage which swings from right to left with extras chasing after the swiftly moving storyline. If it weren’t for the dark undertones of the play it would be funny to watch these characters rush after a floating Stevenson (and to be honest, it sometimes was laughable).
The play tries hard to narrow the gap between reality and Stilson’s mind. The sweeping scene changes and the introduction of melodramatic curtain projections, which somewhat resemble the efforts of an A-level art project, skewer one’s ability to comprehend what is really happening and what is within Stilson’s own mind. However, when Stilson is quite literally floating above the other cast members it would be offensive to think the audience is swept up enough to believe this as truth.
Although the play is a principally short piece, you get a distinct feel for Stevenson’s character. There is a pleasing scene where her therapist, Amy, attempts to get Mrs Stilson to name the object she used to fly in, to which she rapidly replies ‘Planes!’. The glee with which she remembers an aspect of her previous life gives the audience hope for her recovery. It is like watching a child gain its first words. Yet a true recovery is never shown and will most likely never happen. There is an obvious dark light which shines upon the play in its entirety as it finds itself very close to reality and the saddening truth of stroke victims. For anyone who has had experience in this area I would recommend avoiding this play, while it may be endearing for some to witness the attempted rebuilding of an obviously strong and previously quick witted female pilot, for others it may be a hard tale of misfortune which hits too close to the hard truth of mortal life.
Featured image: Wings, standard.co.uk