Before I Am Lost
Reviewed – 20th August 2019
“has the potential to be something noteworthy”
Before I Am Lost is Beatrice Vincent’s one woman show about the Imagist poet and novelist Hilda Doolittle, or H.D, as she is better known. This play about H.D’s life and art is currently playing at the Etcetera Theatre at the Oxford Arms in Camden Town, as part of the Camden Fringe Festival. In Vincent’s take on H.D’s life, we meet the writer at a particularly stressful point in her life — she is pregnant, she is married, but the child she is carrying is not her husband’s. Neither her lover nor her husband wish to claim responsibility, and H.D herself is terrified that she may not survive this pregnancy. Before I Am Lost is a direct address to H.D’s unborn child — saying all the things that are on her mind in case she does not live to say them in person. It’s an attention getting situation.
The historical Hilda Doolittle was a charismatic bisexual female artist who formed powerful relationships with both men and women, some platonic, some not. She moved in artistic circles that included Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams, and D.H Lawrence. Born in the United States, she moved to London as a young adult and lived in Europe for most of the remainder of her life. She did nearly die while giving birth to her second and only surviving child, but this was due to the influenza pandemic of 1918, and not complications of pregnancy or childbirth. She was a pioneer in many ways, and navigated life and art on her own terms, often despite a disapproving or appropriating male gaze.
Before I Am Lost chooses to foreground H.D’s pregnancy and her more famous male companions. This focus does H.D no favours. With this approach, the script reduces her to a woman experiencing what so many women have experienced, and is distracting in its historical inaccuracies. It makes the briefest of references to H.D’s female lover Bryher but without telling us much about her. The play does refer often to the Greek myths that predominate in H.D’s art, but they are overwhelmingly references to male gods and heroes, even if the characterisation of H.D does take on these mythic figures and cast herself in their moulds. Beatrice Vincent is a sympathetic performer, but as a writer, she has chosen a rather thin vein to mine when such riches of artistic and biographical material are available. Instead, the audience’s attention is at risk of drifting during the performance focusing on things like a lack of an American accent in Vincent’s portrayal of H.D., for example.
Before I Am Lost has the potential to be something noteworthy but this script could use more research, and work with a skilled dramaturg, to get there. H.D’s story, as a writer, a feminist, and as a pioneer of LGBT rights, deserves a memorable telling.
Reviewed by Dominica Plummer
Photography by Brendan Walker
Before I Am Lost
Etcetera Theatre until 20th August as part of Camden Fringe 2019
Last ten shows reviewed at this venue: