Prufrock’s Love Song

Globe Theatre, 104 London St, Dunedin

05/10/2011 - 09/10/2011

Production Details

Three women meet in a coffee shop where one (their art teacher) works and talk about men, art and life in general. Their talks are overheard by the ghostly figure of TS Eliot who is inspired to write his poem, ‘The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock’.

05 – 09 October 2011 

Kate: Kate Lindsay
Esme: Tarn Felton
Juiola: Miriam Noonan
TS Eliot/Prufrock: Ben Blakely

Set construction: Don Knewstubb
Lighting design: Phillip Todd
Stage manager: Brook Bray
Lighting operator: Alexandra Ross
Wardrobe: Sofie Welvaert
Publicity: Roslyn Nijenhuis
Poster: Kathryn Madill
Photography: Sofie Welvaert
Front of House: Ellie Swann
Set design: Elsa May   

Irreverent, jolly fun

Review by Terry MacTavish 13th Oct 2011

Anyone who has ever been haunted by a bit of poetry, maybe even a song lyric, will understand how it is that lines of T.S. Eliot’s marvellous, evocative The Love Song of J.Alfred Prufrock have lingered tantalisingly in writer Elsa May’s mind until she felt compelled to confront them.  The resulting play is a crazily funny speculation about the possible (though very unlikely!) origins of the poem. 

Eliot’s monologue, originally called Prufrock Among the Women, describes a man who is aging, who dreads the ridicule of the ladies he longs to impress but fears to approach: they are seductive and terrifying, cruel and charming. He is cripplingly aware of his limitations. “I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be.” 

The refrain that intrigued May –
“In the room the women come and go,
  Talking of Michelangelo”
– hints at the pretentiousness of the fashionable society he aspired to, that was about to be swept away by the First World War. 

But Elsa May has not troubled herself with reproducing Eliot’s sophisticated world, or the soignée sirens that inhabited it. Instead she takes a light-hearted look at real women, rather than the dangerous, desirable creatures of Eliot’s imagination.  Her contemporary T.S.Eliot is composing his poem at a table in a colourfully decorated but ordinary Kiwi cafe.

Here three women meet regularly as part of their Art Appreciation class, gaze at the Michelangelo-style ceiling the tutor has painted, and discuss all the mundane, comical details of their existence, unashamedly measuring their lives out with coffee spoons.   

The first part of the play is realistic if quirky, focusing on the women gossiping their way through their own humorous life crises, while the balding man at the next table writes and listens. In the second part, he rises to recite the whole of The Love Song of J.Alfred Prufrock, and realism is cheerfully abandoned as the women tease Eliot and illustrate or mock his lines.

One moment they are floaty mermaids, the next white-coated scientists, literally pinning Eliot wriggling to the wall, and the play develops a hallucinatory trippy quality. The interpretation is clever and cheeky, often beautifully choreographed, but with a jaunty sense of humour underlying all. 

The set actually would make a cool cafe – blue seas swirl around a chunky ship bearing a screen with projections of cosy couples. Our women, like the lonely poet, know the single are failures in the dance of life. Still, at least they share their troubles and offer each other loving support. No wonder the poor intellectual-but-horny blokes feel isolated. Single-girl gossip groups have a long, proud lineage: Much Ado About Nothing, The Country Wife, Bridget Jones, Sex and the City… 

The cast seems to relish the whimsicality of the work, and the women are a well balanced team; Kate Lindsay elegantly draped in black as the resigned art tutor, gradually warming to her students whom she initially calls dumb and dumber, Tarn Felton as the comically deceived wife, and Miriam Noonan as the bizarre but fascinating drama student, all saucer eyes and squeaky voice. 

Ben Blakely as Eliot as Prufrock holds his own against their cosy collusion, and it really is a pleasure finally to hear the famous poem spoken. 

Once on a visit to London I accidentally scored the hottest ticket in town: Fiona Shaw, accomplished classical actress (well ok, she’s also in True Blood and Harry Potter), simply reciting all of The Waste Land in romantic Wilton’s Hall. It was utterly engrossing, and I wondered then why theatre doesn’t host more poetry. 

Prufrock’s Love Poem is not at all what I had in mind, but I’ve no regrets. It’s irreverent, it’s jolly, it’s fun. Away with melancholy!  In no sense are May’s down to earth women the cultured Bloomsbury sophisticates that so terrified Eliot in the early twentieth century, but in the mad world of the play that’s not the issue. 

While Eliot’s Prufrock shrinks and despairs, May shows us women who face life’s vicissitudes with gay courage, women who are determined to amount to more than a pair of ragged claws…  


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Production a definite original

Review by Barbara Frame 13th Oct 2011

A man with a bald spot sits alone at a cafe table writing the old-fashioned way, with a pen. In a teacup sits something that may be a peach.

Women come and go, occasionally discussing the work of a famous Italian painter.

Kate (Kate Lindsay), is an unhappily single artist. Esme (Tarn Felton), has a piercing wail and a dissolving marriage. Juiola (Miriam Noonan), an exuberant drama student half their age, prefers declamation to ordinary speech and is particularly fond of Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde and Tennessee Williams.

Cake is consumed, and sometimes gin. Occasionally, the women encroach on the space of the cafe scribbler, who may be T.S. Eliot or his creation Prufrock (Ben Blakely), but there is little interaction between them. 

Written and directed by Elsa May, this short play probably won’t expand your understanding of The love song of J. Alfred Prufrock, disturb your universe to any great extent, or even lead you to confront overwhelming questions, but it offers an intriguing and often entertaining commentary.

The women who drift languidly in and out of T.S. Eliot’s famous poem take centre stage, develop their own personalities and irritate, fascinate and ultimately inspire the Eliot/Prufrock, who at the end of the play delivers an animated recitation of the entire poem and, in so, doing draws together some of the very odd threads we’ve been observing.

I can’t say I liked everything about the production. The first few minutes consist of Eliot/Prufrock sitting writing to the accompaniment of Eleanor Rigby and other music for several minutes, to the point where last night’s audience, for want of anything else to occupy their attention, began to chatter quite noisily among themselves.

The acting is patchy. Elsa May, however, is to be congratulated for the successful completion of an original project which began life as a student exercise. 


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