Posted by: Kirsty | February 10, 2009

Three Women – Sylvia Plath

It’s not often that I talk about the theatre on this blog. I don’t go to see enough plays. That should be another, rather late, New Year’s Resolution: go to the theatre more often. For instance, a friend raved about August: Osage County, and I had wonderful intentions of getting tickets for it, but I procrastinated, and now it’s finished.

I very nearly missed this play too. I had read reviews with interest – I have been a Plath devotee since I was a teenager – but just didn’t actually get as far as buying tickets. Thankfully, my dear friend Morag stepped in and got us into the matinee performance on the last day of the run. Thanks Mog.

Three Women was not written for the stage, but instead for radio. It was broadcast on the BBC in August 1962 – only six months before Sylvia Plath committed suicide on February 13, 1963. As it was a radio play in the first instance, this is a short show: only 45 minutes. I read, too, that it took two years of legal to-ing and fro-ing for the run to go ahead. The Plath Estate is understandably protective of the poet’s work.

And this play is so definitively the poet’s work. The style and language scream Plath at you before the end of the opening line. These three women are all pregnant. The first is happy, looking forward to the arrival of her child with peace, calmness, and reflection. The second has suffered from several miscarriages, and this pregnancy is tragically no different. She has to give birth to a still-born child, and go home alone. The third is a student, pregnant by accident, and giving the child up for adoption.

The three monologues interweave with one another, following each woman through childbirth and its aftermath, each one deeply poetic and touching. The stand-out character for me, though, was the Secretary, the sufferer of miscarriages. Seguing from desolation to barely-contained rage, she laments the ‘flatness’ of her male colleagues in the grey office-culture. Her combined sadness and anger at leaving the hospital, empty-armed again, was deeply moving, not least when, as she puts her hair up and applies her lipstick, she realises that she can be back at her desk by the afternoon as if nothing has happened. It was quite heart-breaking to see.

The run at Jermyn Street Theatre has now ended, but I sincerely hope that it does come back to the stage at some point, or that the BBC perhaps re-run it on radio. Perhaps there is a recording of the 1962 BBC performance somewhere (she says, hopefully)?



  1. Three Women sounds so interesting. I like that she depicts the different situations that women can find themselves in with regards to pregnancy. I think I probably would have empathized with the woman who miscarried, because of the image you mentioned of her applying lipstick and realizing that she could go out and about as if her pregnancy had never occurred. So sad. I’ve read a few things by Plath and have always enjoyed her somber tone, which haunts me a bit like Jean Rhys’ work does. This play sound like it was a treat to see.


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