Doris Lessing’s Plays

Plays by Women Lessing

The Plays by Women series highlights exceptional dramatic literature written by women, from the past and the present, which we hope to see produced on Bay Area stages.  These plays feature strong female protagonists and stories that emphasize the universal resonance of women’s lives.

Doris-Lessing-jovenPlay With a Tiger and Each His Own Wilderness
By Doris Lessing
Recommended by Valerie Weak (Actor)

Production History:

Play With A Tiger, 1962: West End (London), 1967: BBC Radio

Each His Own Wilderness, 1958: Royal Court (London)

Synopsis & Rationale:

While Lessing is primarily known as a writer of fiction (she won the Pulitzer Prize in 2007 for being “that epicist of the female experience, who with scepticism, fire and visionary power has subjected a divided civilisation to scrutiny”), these two plays speak to a changing time and a changing world for women, in their romantic relationships, their role as mothers, and their relationships to the world around them.  Each His Own Wilderness premiered the same year as Look Back in Anger, and may be of interest to those looking for a counterpoint to that play. For those who know Lessing’s The Golden Notebook, the central relationship in Play with a Tiger covers similar territory to some of the relationships in Golden Notebook.

Play with a Tiger is about Anna Freeman, who ‘earns her living on the artistic fringes’ of London.  As the play begins, she breaks up with her fiancée, because he’s taken a job with a popular womens’ magazine.  She is also waiting for Dave, an American ‘rootless on principle’ who is back in town.  Her landlady, Mary and her on and off married lover, Harry, both pop in and out, with complaints about each other and ultimately head off to the pub at about the same time that Janet, a young American woman, one of ‘Dave’s girls’ comes by looking for him, and Anna learns that Janet is pregnant with his baby.  When everyone leaves Anna alone in the flat, Dave shows up, and he and Anna play out an amazing push and pull of relationship, as they love and fight and struggle to define what exists between them.  The play soars, the walls of the apartment disappear, and by the end of the evening, Mary and Harry have returned from the pub, Harry goes home to his wife, and Dave leaves to marry Janet.  At the end of the play, Mary reminds Anna that her son will be coming to visit soon.

Each His Own Wilderness features Myra Bolton, who has fought for Socialist causes her whole life, and who lives in a world filled with politics and activists.  Her current cause is the anti-nuclear movement.  As the play begins, her son Tony arrives home at the end of his compulsory military service.  He learns that his mother has temporarily given his bedroom to her lover Sandy, who is also the son of one of her friend Milly, and the same age as Tony.  Tony also brings the news that Myra’s ex-lover Phillip has asked if his fiancée Rosemary can stay at her house.  The other character we meet in the first scene is Mike, a politician who is in love with Myra.  Rosemary’s arrival is the end of the first scene of the play.  In the second scene, it’s the next morning and Phillip and Myra argue politics and Phillip ignores Rosemary.  Myra tries to get Tony a job with Phillip, which he refuses.  The act ends with Milly’s arrival, having just returned from Japan.  

Act II starts later that afternoon, as Myra is throwing a party for Milly.  Tony sulks, jokingly attempts to seduce Milly to ‘even things out’ and Milly and Myra have a heart to heart about their lives, and how their sons are growing up.  Myra confesses that she’s sold the house to give Tony some money.  Rosemary and Phillip quarrel and make up, Sandy ‘breaks up’ with Myra, and Myra gets chummy with Mike.  At the end of the scene, Milly and Tony are left alone together.  The next scene is the next morning, and Milly has spent the night with Tony who now wants to stay in the house.  Mike has proposed to Myra, Phillip and Rosemary have decided not to get married, and Sandy has taken a job with Phillip.  Myra breaks up with Mike, then Phillip leaves, disgusted with her behavior.  Sandy follows to start his job, and Milly heads home.  Myra tells Tony she’s sold the house, and then leaves.  Tony and Rosemary are left together, yearning for ‘ordinary’ lives.

Setting/Time:

Both Play with a Tiger and Each His Own Wilderness are set in London homes in the late 1950’s-1960’s.

Play With a Tiger Character Breakdown: 3W, 3M

Anna Freeman a woman of 35 or so who earns her living on the artistic fringes
Dave Miller, an American, about 33, who is rootless on principle
Mary Jackson, About 10 years older than Anna, a widow with a grown up son
Tom Lattimer, Who is on the point of taking a job as a business manager of a woman’s magazine.  About 35, a middleclass Englishman
Harry Paine, Fifty-ish, a journalist
Janet Stevens, In her early 20s, the daughter of an Insurance agent, American

Each His Own Wilderness Character Breakdown: 4W, 3M

Myra Bolton, a middle aged woman
Tony Bolton, her son aged 22
Milly Boles, a middle-aged woman, Myra’s friend
Sandy Boles, Milly’s son, aged 22
Mike Ferris, an elderly left wing politician
Phillip Durrant, a middle-aged architect
Rosemary, A young girl engaged to Philip

Script Rights:  It is unclear who holds the performance rights for these plays, although published copies exist in a 3-play anthology published by UK-based Flamingo, a division of Harper Collins (see below).

Further Reading:

Play with a Tiger and Other Plays, by Doris Lessing, Flamingo/Harper Collins, 1966.

Doris Lessing: A Retrospective

Doris Lessing Guardian Obituary

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