Minvera Theatre. Chichester

STEVIE is to meet the Queen at Buckingham Palace to receive a medal. It has been raining, she is wet, and is no longer sure about the hat she is wearing, bought for five shillings at a jumble sale.

We learn all of this as Stevie – Stevie Smith the poet – addresses we the audience as old friends who have just popped round for tea with Stevie and Lion Aunt; or perhaps a glass of sherry, or two.

It’s all very normal. A cosy chat in a non-too out of the ordinary suburban living room in very ordinary suburban Avondale Road in London's Palmers Green where Stevie has lived all her life. Friends in London where she attends parties and works at the BBC recording shows with George Orwell, want her to move into town and get a flat, but Stevie prefers the normality of suburbia.

And so life moves on at a steady pace, predictable pace, for Stevie who lives with ageing Aunt from Hull, and loves cadging lifts from gentlemen admirers but will never leave Avondale Road and the Lion Aunt who insists on calling her Peggy.

The marvellous Zoe Wanamaker plays Stevie, whose poetry made her a celebrity of post- war Britain. Her performance is near flawless as the challenging Stevie Smith, musing through her life in conversations with her aunt, several gentlemen associates, but mostly the audience at the Minerva Theatre.

Hugh Whitemore's play tells the story of Smith's two lives, London art scene and suburban monotony, through these conversations. The memories are interspersed with Smith's poetry, spoken by Stevie or by her gentleman callers, but never Aunt, who still thinks her work is all stuff and nonsense.

Lynda Barron plays the ageing Aunt. Not really confused, not even cantankerous, Barron's performance is a study in ageing devotion, a master class in what our final years promise.

Talented Chris Larkin plays Man, a representation of several associates, perhaps loves, of Stevie's life.

Simon Higlett's marvellous set and clever use of lighting ensures that although all of the performance takes place in one, un-changing suburban living room, director Christopher Morahan's opening play for this year's Festival Season at Chichester is worthy of what promises to be a vintage summer.

Stevie runs until May 24.