I Was a Wife review at the Dukes, Lancaster – ‘heartbreak and hope’
Polly Lister's numerous acting jobs range from pantomime fairy to understudying Anne-Marie Duff in Saint Joan. But her first go at playwriting is about getting to grips with a real life-changing role when, as a woman pushing 40, she was suddenly faced with a messy divorce.
Part biography, part catharsis, I Was a Wife is a story is about failure and fight-back, heartbreak and hope, connecting some of the characters she was playing at the time with the dressing rooms that became homes from home while coping with a dream marriage gone wrong.
After developing the original idea as part of the Dukes’ Kick Start scheme, Lister had a successful short run here in 2016 and now re-staged and re-invigorated by a new director, Stefan Escreet, there’s an engaging vitality about her performance as she bursts on dressed as a clown – “a crap part that I didn’t audition for” – then reels off the roles, and some showy songs too, changing costumes and wigs as the personal crisis deepens.
Whether it’s Cruella de Vil crucifying canines while the solicitor’s letters pile up backstage, or Myra Arundel in Hay Fever turning into a hostile divorce court witness, Lister never falters. She’s on firm ground too in the incredibly fragile moments, revealing the fury and self-doubt of a woman struggling with changing her identity – from wounded wife to a woman healed.
It’s never explained why her husband turned on her. But far more interesting is watching an actor leaving her marriage behind and learning to play herself.