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Stevie review Zoë Wanamaker brings Smith's poetry alive

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Minerva, Chichester
Like the man in her most famous poem, Not Waving but Drowning, Wanamaker's Stevie Smith is all covert signals

She stands before us, stooping slightly, in a shapeless red pinafore like an awkward, slightly wistful schoolgirl up before the headteacher. But something glints in this elfin, middle-aged woman's eye. The crimson pinafore may be a fashion disaster, but it's also a flash of defiance, even danger, in a drab world.

Zoë Wanamaker is so perfectly cast in Hugh Whitemore's play about the life and work of the poet Stevie Smith that you don't feel so much that she's acting as simply channelling the mid-20th century poet and novelist. She transforms an evening that could be reticent, maybe even a little coy, into something more ferocious and dangerous. Sadder too. Like the man in Smith's most famous poem, Not Waving but Drowning, who swims too far out to sea so those on the shore misinterpret his wave for help as gaiety, Wanamaker's Stevie is constantly signalling her distress behind a larky demeanour.

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