Before Jules Craig, there was Edith Sitwell. Before Edith Sitwell, there was Elizabeth I.
Jules brings all three together in her one-woman show Edith, Elizabeth and I which she brings to West Dean College on Wednesday, November 2 at 7.30pm – a place rich in Sitwell associations.
The college holds Pavel Tchelitchew’s iconic portrait of Edith from 1937 and also Sitwell’s correspondence with West Dean College founder Edward James.
Brighton-based Jules then takes the show to Brighton’s Marlborough Theatre for performances on November 7 and 8.
Jules promises the piece as a comic fast-moving one-woman show with a cast of three, all vying for the role of leading lady.
“I started devising the show with a friend of mine some time ago. We were just playing around with ideas. That was about 2011. It has been a long process! I knew that I wanted to do a one-woman show, and I knew I wanted to do something about Edith Sitwell.
“I was just interested in her. The play takes the premise, though I am spoofing it a bit, that I look like her. In fact, I do look incredibly like her. I discovered it a long time ago. My mum sent me a postcard of her when I first left home. She said ‘You look like her!’”
Jules admits she wasn’t quite sure how to take it: “She was quite a forbidding old lady. She had a prominent nose. And she was very tall.
“She had enormous headdresses and rings, and her nails were always painted very beautifully. She wore quite old-fashioned clothes. She had a very distinctive style, and she used to do a lot as a model for paintings.
“She was incredibly striking, and she had this resemblance to Elizabeth I. She wrote a couple of books about Elizabeth I. She identified with her looks-wise, but also in the way that she was very intellectually powerful. She talked about Elizabeth I as being full of fire.
“Sitwell and her brothers were accused of being self-publicists and quite vain and also quite obstinate, forging their own path and cultivating their own garden.
“My play is also about taking your own identity, being your own person, being who you are, not being ashamed about who you are. The play is a lot about that.
“In her time, she was incredibly famous. She said she had so many presents for her 75th birthday that she had to put a thank-you notice in The Times. They were celebrities, and yet somehow they have got lost.
“But they are still very relevant. Her poetry is certainly still very relevant. She was very interested in form and structure and the visceral nature of language.
“She was also a great supporter. She was a mentor for Dylan Thomas and various other writers and poets. She championed them all.”
And now Jules finds an affinity: “She was unmarried and had no children, just as Elizabeth I was unmarried and had no children… and so I am unmarried and have no children. I am very interested in the role she played in society, the way that women are judged for the way they looked.
“Someone said she was as ugly as modern poetry. She said ‘I don’t know what that has to do with my work.’ I think that kind of comment is still pertinent today. The first thing we notice about a woman is how she looks and what she wears.
“Edith Sitwell lived outside society. She was not married. She didn’t have children. But she had her own style and had a very productive life and produced a lot of material.”
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