Anna-Mari Laulumaa’s one-woman show about the life of troubled poet Anne Sexton is as uncompromising and uncomfortable as Sexton’s work itself. God Is in My Typewriter follows Sexton from birth to untimely suicide, as she experiences child abuse, mental institutions, and Pulitzer Prize winning fame. It’s a tragic story we’ve heard many times before, but it’s given new life here by Laulumaa, who gives a visceral and passionate performance throughout.
God Is in My Typewriter is a delicately balanced piece of physical and emotional intensity and for the most part, Laulumaa carries it off.
Sexton’s poetry is notoriously confessional; she wrote about her personal life with brutal, heartfelt honesty. Laulumaa does the same, giving a highly physical performance straight from the gut. Inspired by Butoh dance, she alternates agonising stillness with raw, primal energy. Through movement, we witness Sexton’s inner self: a scared, fragile child encountering womanhood with confusion and bravery.
Heightened emotional states reinforce this: Laulumaa alternates between joyful laughter and funereal depression with childlike ease. This emotional balance is well served by other elements: Sexton’s husband is represented as a stuffed lion; her daughters are dolls. Laulumaa throws them around the stage with animal fury, but always returns to them, like a child to a favourite toy. Indeed, the speech she gives her daughter in the final minutes is one of the emotional highlights of the piece: “I was unhappy”, she says, “But I lived”. It’s very nearly too much to bear.
God Is in My Typewriter is a delicately balanced piece of physical and emotional intensity and for the most part, Laulumaa carries it off. The show falters down when this balance is forgotten: Laulumaa cumbersomely composing some of Sexton’s most famous work on the eponymous typewriter is simply awkward, and having Sexton occasionally address the audience directly is jarring. Since we know how the story ends, the final quarter lags and we trudge solemnly towards the inevitable.
This should not detract from the piece as a whole, however. As Laulumaa warns in the opening minutes, “This is not a comedy”, nor would you want it to be. God Is in My Typewriter doesn’t tell us anything new about Anne Sexton, but this doesn’t stop it from being an admirable and deeply powerful piece of theatre.