Page last updated at 14:15 GMT, Friday, 27 February 2009

'Lost' Hughes play to be staged

Ted Hughes
Ted Hughes served as Poet Laureate from 1985 until his death

A play which lay undiscovered in the archive of poet Ted Hughes since his 1998 death is to get its first staging.

The Story of Vasco is written in free verse and tells of a barber who sets off on a secret mission during wartime.

Hughes wrote it on commission from Sadler's Wells to be made into an opera but only half of his verse was used.

The full text of Hughes' original play was found by theatre director Adam Barnard who will direct the first staging in Richmond, south west London.

Barnard found evidence in the British Library that the 1974 opera, The Story of Vasco, was based on a full text by Hughes.

He followed the trail to Gordon Crosse, who wrote the music for the opera. Crosse confirmed he had had the Hughes play but had thrown it away.

Not giving up, Barnard approached an American university which he knew had Hughes archive material. He asked them to go through their files for anything which might match.

"I'll never forget the moment I opened the box from America containing the full set of papers. " said Barnard.

"There was page after page of material, much of it written in Hughes's own hand, that no-one had seen for years.

"I realised I was looking at material I had not seen before - material that had not reached the opera."

Crow imagery

The work is based on a 1957 French play by Georges Schehade.

"Hughes's imagination was clearly sparked by the source material, but his is a very free adaptation." says Barnard

"While the original is in prose, his is in verse, and while he roughly follows Schehade's story, the dialogue is substantially different."

One thing significantly changed is the use of crow imagery. Hughes, whose poetry often confronts a savage natural world, has magnified the theme in his version.

The crow imagery also takes a vital role in Hughes' acclaimed poetry collection Crow, which was published three years later.

The Story of Vasco is not so far seen as being in the same order of achievement. The Times' literary editor Erica James calls it "a slight, trite, antiwar tract".

The Story of Vasco opens on 25 March at The Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond.

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