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Tom and Viv (Oberon Modern Plays) Paperback – 15 Sep 2006
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It is Cambridge, 1915, and Tom, and awkward American graduate, meets Viv. Enchanted with each other, the couple are sucked into a whirlwind romance, but as Tom begins to become successful in the field of literature, Viv's volatility becomes a problem rather than a quirk. Their swift marriage turns into an impossible love story. Tom and Viv explores the complex relationship between T.S Eliot and his wife, Vivienne. It premiered at the Royal Court Theatre in 1984, and was made into a major motion picture starring William Defoe and Miranda Richardson in 1994. A new production opens at the Almeida Theatre, London in September 2006.
About the Author
Playwright Michael Hastings's other plays include For The West (Uganda), Lee Harvey Oswald, Full Frontal and Calico (also published by Oberon). In his career to date he has received an Oscar nomination, an Emmy and an Evening Standard Award.
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Eliot's marriage to Vivienne Haigh-Wood is often neglected, but she was an extremely important part of his life. Some researchers even go as far as to say that parts of The Wasteland were written by her. Even if this is not true, it is undeniable that she was one of the main influences on the poem, and it would not have been the same without her.
The play deals with their early marriage, and leads right up to Vivienne's death in the mental asylum in 1947. Of course, it was impossible for Hastings to scrape together the real facts of their marriage, but his knowledge comes from Maurice Haigh-Wood, Vivienne's brother, whom Hastings interviewed just before he died. Because of this, it takes a sympathetic stance in terms of Vivienne's character, who is shown to have wild moments as well as overwhelming despair. Due to Hasting's research, we can at least take parts of the play to be as close to the truth as most of us will ever get.
If you are a fan of Eliot, this should be an interesting read. I would advise against reading this play as a starting point, as it is "fiction", and there are many references to Eliot's poetry woven within the text which it would help to be familiar with prior to reading. Nonetheless, this is a respectful, beautifully-written account of the life of two lovers who eventually drove each other to pieces. I would recommend it to anyone who has an interest in the man behind the poetic myth.