The play unfolds on the set of a London open plan flat; the stage is cast in a lilac-grey dusk. In the bed a couple are making love. The sex is passionate, alternating between tenderness and playful aggression. An arm is raised, another arm brings it lower. The love-making is almost complete. Lights come up on a singer, and she begins to sing:
In nova fert animus mutates dicere formas corpora:
Now I am ready to tell how bodies are changed
Into different bodies.
Some are transformed just once
And live their whole lives after in that shape.
Others have a facility
For changing themselves as they please.
Now am I ready to tell how bodies are changed
Into different bodies:
In nova fert animus mutates dicere formas corpora.
During her song the sex act is completed, and half of the couple has removed himself from the bed. The lights on her go down, the lights on the main stage are lifted. Standing over the bed and fixing his white flannel dressing gown is a male character, assessable by posture to be in his mid thirties: this is Ted. In the bed lies Sylvia. The dialogue begins:
Ted: One time, Jupiter, happy to be idle,
Swept the cosmic mystery aside
And draining another goblet of ambrosia
Sylvia: Who drowsed in bed beside him.
Ted/ Jupiter: This love of male and female is a strange business.
Fifty-fifty investment in the madness,
Yet she ends up with nine-tenths of the pleasure.
Sylvia/ Juno: A man might think so.
And so a night begins of erotically charged and startlingly evocative storytelling between man and wife, prefiguring the translation Ted would come to make of Ovid’s Metamorphosis much later, after Sylvia’s death. As the stories the couple tells each other of classical myths and fallen deities become gradually more complex, brutal and fantastic, the literary duo are joined on stage by the cast of their visions- Gods, nymphs, satyrs, kings, judges, hogs, spiders, nightingales and trees in a golden hued realm of the imagination. Through the tales they tell though we see not one play, but two: as the biographical detail of Ted and Sylvia’s life is refracted through the lens of legend, and new light is, hopefully, shed on both. This is the concept for our re-imagining of Ted Hughes’ translation of Ovid’s Metamorphosis, adapted for the stage by Tim Supple and Simon Reade.