Doris Lessing wrote Play with a Tiger in 1958, some time before it was staged and published in 1962. She wrote it while working on The Golden Notebook and a third novel of the Children of Violence series. The action of the play resembles a section of The Golden Notebook, as it presents a similar contrast of characters. Anna Freeman of Play with a Tiger resembles Anna Wulf of The Golden Notebook, and Dave Miller, with whom Anna is in love in the play, resembles a character who appears near the end of The Golden Notebook, with whom Anna Wulf falls in love. Both of Lessing’s Annas are highly serious women grappling with the major political questions of the day, and they are both unhappy about the traditional societal roles of men and women. These women resist marriage because they believe that the institution as it stands is a trap for women, and they experiment beyond the bounds of monogamous love. But whereas The Golden Notebook is about a long period in its heroine’s life, Play with a Tiger covers just a few hours.
Play with a Tiger received mixed reviews when it was first staged. Further, since Lessing is known as a writer of novels and short stories, not as a playwright, Play with a Tiger and her few other plays receive considerably less scholarly attention than her novels and short stories.
Play with a Tiger dramatizes the difficulties of having high ideals and trying to live by them with as little compromise as possible. Anna turns out to be the strongest person of the play, but even she must compromise in certain situations. Further, she suffers a great deal for her convictions, as Lessing shows how people who depart from societal norms, and who are different, suffer loneliness and scorn. Play with a Tiger is no longer in print, although it is likely to be available at most any large library.