September 11, 2008

The Year of Magical Thinking

When Vanessa Redgrave left the stage at the end of the 100- minute monologue that is The Year of Magical Thinking there was a profound silence.

Then a sustained, almost reverential, applause rippled around the theatre as the audience stood in tribute to a superlative performance and an intensely moving piece of theatre.

The play, written by Californian author Joan Didion, is an exploration of one woman's grief - Joan's own.

It is based on the book of the same name that Joan wrote after the sudden death of her husband, the author and screenwriter John Gregory Dunne.

But it is also something more, for by the time she met director David Hare with a view to writing the play, her only daughter Quintana had also died, aged just 39.

"Grief turns out to be a place none of us know until we reach it," she says. The Year of Magical Thinking explores helplessness in the face of loss, the attempts to remain in control, and the descent into what Joan calls the vortex - driving round Los Angeles, avoiding any place that might trigger memories, performing routines that might keep her daughter safe.

It sounds demanding - and it is - it is even confrontational.

"And it will happen to you. The details will be different, but it will happen to you. That's what I'm here to tell you," she says. But there is also much humour and in many ways it is a celebration of love.

Vanessa Redgrave's one-woman performance is stunning throughout and the simple set could not be bettered. There is nothing to distract from the power of the words. This is a play not to be missed.

For tickets call the Theatre Royal Bath on 01225 448844.

Jackie Chappell

magicalJoan Didion, left, and Vanessa Redgrave

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