Sylvia, a play scripted and directed by Athira Nikathil, is an intimate portrayal of the life of American poet Sylvia Plath and her struggle with depression

Athira Nikathil’s play Sylvia opens with the young Sylvia Plath meeting Ted Hughes, whom she would later marry. What follows is an intense life story of the American poet that rises and dips like a poem. Athira attempts to bring to life the person and poet Sylvia was.

Inspired by Sylvia, a 2003 biopic on Plath, Athira dips into the poet’s complex personal and literary life to create a narrative that does justice to her persona. “I watched the biopic on her, spent hours researching her, read and re-read her poetry, listened to scratchy podcasts of Sylvia’s and of her children and mother…before taking on this project,” says Athira. She employs music, dance, poetry, and literature as her main theatrical devices.

Athira Nikathil. PC: Special Arrangement

It was when Athira came out of a period of clinical depression that she decided to work on Sylvia. Diagnosed with clinical depression [herself], Plath is known to have struggled with dark episodes all through her adult life, before committing suicide at the age of 30. “When I came back into a phase of clarity, I wanted to make a play and I thought why not on Plath with whom I had always been fascinated,” Athira says. Having done her BA in English Literature, Plath had always been an inspiration. “It was only when I had a personal experience with depression that I felt like I understood what Plath had gone through,” she says. “I wanted to take the poet’s story to more people.”

This is Athira’s second directorial venture: her first play, Blank Page, was staged before the pandemic. She had already formed a motley crew of people who were passionate about theatre. “I did not want anyone from acting schools. I wanted those who loved the art of theatre,” says Athira.

Theatre collective

The crew became a collective called Thambu. “Though we call it a women’s theatre collective, we have male members as well,” says Athira. The core members of the collective include Anjana Sree, Ahalya Prarithi Praveen, Krishnapriya Thilakan, Jayakrishna K J, Raghi Babu, Neethu Chandran, Akhil Vijayan, Anoop KV, Amaldeep Pradeep, and Jathin Lata Shaji.

During the lockdown months, the collective did online theatre workshops and talks. Athira, who has an MA in Theatre from the School of Drama, Thrissur, says she enjoys acting as much as she enjoys directing plays. She is currently employed as a theatre instructor at Choice School in Kochi.

Sylvia, the 50-minute interactive play, produced by Thambu, has Krishnapriya Thilakan, more popularly known as Kaaapi on her Instagram handle, playing Plath and Adarsh Sabu playing Ted Hughes. Ahalya, Anjana, Pranav Unni, Austine Benny, Akshay, Akhil VK, Karthik Kumar and Samarth P Anilkumar essay the other characters in the play. While the costumes have been designed by Shani Joy, art has been handled by Sreedath PR. Light design and execution are by Subin KK and Jithu Vargehese; Vishnu Sheeja Vinod and Sam offer technical support.

The play has been staged a few times in Kochi, and Athira has been receiving encouraging feedback. “A lot of people came up to me to say it touched a raw nerve. Depression is still not talked about as much as it should be. I could see that many viewers could relate to the characters on stage,” she adds.

Sylvia is suitable for children and adults over 10 years of age. It will be staged on May 14 at Ala Theatre and Cultural Centre, Mulanthuruthy, at 7pm. For tickets, call 9447194411.

This article was originally posted on on May 11, 2023, and has been reposted with permission. To read the original article, click here.

This post was written by the author in their personal capacity.The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of The Theatre Times, their staff or collaborators.

This post was written by Anasuya Menon.

The views expressed here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect our views and opinions.