Review: Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, Young Vic at the Apollo

“The human animal is a beast that dies but the fact that he’s dying don’t give him pity for others”

Whatever the reasons behind the decision to open Benedict Andrews’ Cat On A Hot Tin Roof directly into the West End, a first for the Young Vic, you can’t help suspect that it has been informed by the extraordinary success of their 2014 collaboration on A Streetcar Named Desire. Equally, it is tempting to feel the play would be better off on The Cut, the better for its intimacy to really sizzle.

There’s certainly the attempt to raise the temperature – Andrews has his leads Jack O’Connell and Sienna Miller in various states of undress for large swathes of the play – but for all the skin exposed, there’s little sexuality between Tennessee Williams’ central couple, the reasons for which are painstakingly revealed later on. And ultimately it is a disconnect that reads better than it plays. Continue reading “Review: Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, Young Vic at the Apollo”

Review: Sweet Bird of Youth, Chichester Festival Theatre

“‘I think that hate is a feeling that can only exist where there is no understanding”

There’s something a little depressingly predictable about my inability to resist a neat bit of star casting – Marcia Gay Harden’s long-in-the-making UK theatrical debut being the guilty party here. It’s depressing because Tennessee Williams’ Sweet Bird of Youth is a play I wasn’t much of a fan of the one time I saw it before and the heart wasn’t beating any faster at the prospect of sitting through it once again.

And maybe there’s an element of self-defeating prophecy at work because I was bored rigid by Jonathan Kent’s production here for Chichester Festival Theatre. A quiet audience (never seen the upper seats curtained off like that before) sweltered in the stifling atmosphere but sadly, there was no heat being generated on the stage of Anthony Ward’s distractingly-conceived design. Continue reading “Review: Sweet Bird of Youth, Chichester Festival Theatre”

Re-review: The Glass Menagerie / Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf

“Dashed hopes and good intentions. Good, better, best, bested”

“It’s an honour just to be nominated…” Come award season, these words are often heard but you do have to wonder what it feels like to be the only member of a four person ensemble that isn’t up for an Olivier Award. Such is the fate for Michael Esper in The Glass Menagerie just now, as Cherry Jones, Kate O’Flynn and Brian J Smith all find themselves deservedly up for acting prizes on Sunday while he’s had to put his game face on. Continue reading “Re-review: The Glass Menagerie / Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf”

Review: The Glass Menagerie, Duke of York’s

“The future becomes the present, the present the past, and the past turns into everlasting regret if you don’t plan for it”

John Tiffany might well be taking over the West End by stealth. His Critic’s Circle-winning Harry Potter and The Cursed Child is still maintaining its extraordinarily successful run, currently booking until April 2018, and now his production of Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie, previously seen in the US and last year in Edinburgh, arrives at the Duke of York’s. And though Tiffany’s gift for direction may be taking fantastical flight over at the Palace Theatre, rest assured it is no less magical here. Kate O’Flynn’s Laura first appears like a spirit, passing right through the furniture as she is evoked by her brother, likewise Cherry Jones’ Amanda arrives out of thin air. 

Yet for all this, including movement largely governed by long-time collaborator Steven Hoggett so that the eating of dinner becomes as finely choreographed as a ballet, the production’s magic comes from the humanity with which its characters are treated. As narrated from the future by her estranged son Tom, Amanda Wingfield is often overplayed, the faded Southern belle craving the limelight, but here she is a mother first and foremost and Jones never lets us forget that. She’s incredibly expansive and inextricably lost in memories of her youth but here she is deeply caring and self-aware too, it is a beautifully judged performance from an actress finally making her London debut after an illustrious Broadway career. Continue reading “Review: The Glass Menagerie, Duke of York’s”

Review: Confessional, Southwark Playhouse

“I know from experience that I’ll find somebody and locate a nightspot to booze in and get acquainted with…friends”

I can’t deny it, when I first heard the staging for Tennessee Williams’ Confessional was ‘semi-immersive’, I rolled my eyes for it has become a much-abused term by arts marketeers. But on arriving at Southwark Playhouse, being encouraged to go into the Little straightaway and thus experiencing Justin Williams’ design, I was blown away. For the theatre has been transformed into a working bar, Monk’s Place, complete with pork scratchings and the kind of seating found in any traditional pub.

The pre-show entertainment sets the mood perfectly, actors milling round making the kind of small talk you might call banter, for that is so much of the essence of the play. Eschewing conventional dramatic structure, Confessional is less about plot than about people. Specifically, the punters of this seaside boozer as they count down the minutes to closing time, sharing stories with us, arguing the toss with each other, trying – and failing – to come to terms with the cards life has dealt them. Continue reading “Review: Confessional, Southwark Playhouse”

Review: A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur, Print Room

“Everyone is sensitive to something”

Given the amount of writing that Tennessee Williams produced – not a year goes past without a premiere of some new short play or other by him – it’s no surprise that there’s a good deal of his work that falls into the little-performed category. A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur is one such play, written in 1976 and now revived at Notting Hill’s Print Room, directed by Michael Oakley.

In a St Louis, Missouri apartment sometime in the 1930s, a group of women spend a sweltering Sunday preparing for a picnic, illuminating as Williams so often does, the precarious nature of women’s place in society. All four are single but at different stages in their life and naturally it is the youngest – civics teacher Dorothea – who is the driving force, believing she has the most at stake. Continue reading “Review: A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur, Print Room”

Review: A Streetcar Named Desire, Royal Exchange

“I don’t want realism, I want magic”

 
The thing is, if you’re going into a Sarah Frankcom/Maxine Peake collaboration with any notion of it being traditional, then more fool you. The pair have worked together several times (notably on The Skriker and Hamlet) and are clearly interested in advancing their creative vision, undoubtedly a feminist one but equally excitingly, an utterly adventurous one. So to label their take on Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire gimmicky is reductive, to bemoan its lack of specificity narrow-minded, to characterise its colour-blind casting thus a fucking disgrace. FYI Cavendish, if the actress playing Stella had been white, they still wouldn’t have been “related”, it’s called imagination.

Having got that off my chest, I should say that this is a remarkably intense Streetcar and it is one that requires dedication throughout its 3 hours+ running time, Frankcom’s key conceit taking its time to play out as Peake charts Blanche DuBois’ startling decline in the New Orleans abode of her sister Stella and her virile but violent husband Stanley. Uprooted from any over-riding sense of particular time and space, Fly Davis’ design has a strangeness that takes some getting used to, its expressionistic flourishes framing some stunning imagery. And this increasingly hallucinatory atmosphere is played up by the presence of Creole figures that haunt Blanche, floating around the edge of her consciousness more and more as her anxieties increase. Continue reading “Review: A Streetcar Named Desire, Royal Exchange”

Review: The Glass Menagerie, Nottingham Playhouse

“But Mother
‘Yes?’
I’m crippled”

You might, not unreasonably, think that I’d had my fill of Glass Menageries, having seen three in the space of a month late last year but Tennessee Williams’ memory play is one I enjoy especially and am usually keen to see. And so it was with Giles Croft’s production of The Glass Menagerie for Nottingham Playhouse where he is Artistic Director, this play being the one that inspired him to become a director and now 40 years later, he feels ready to tackle for himself. 

Another key factor in my decision was this theatre’s participation in the Ramps on the Moon project, helping to mainstream disability arts and culture through programming and increased opportunities, here taking the form of casting wheelchair user Amy Trigg as Laura, the young woman whose physical fragility is matched by her emotional wellbeing, smothered as she is by overbearing mother Amanda and abandoned by brother guilt-ridden Tom. Continue reading “Review: The Glass Menagerie, Nottingham Playhouse”

Review: Glazen Speelgoed, Stadschouwburg Amsterdam

 

“Ik vind het beangstigend hoe ze zomaar wat leeft”

Marking Sam Gold’s directorial debut outside of his native US, Glazen Speelgoed sees him do wonderful things to Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie with Toneelgroep Amsterdam, the Dutch company proving a perfect match for this striking reinterpretation. Released from the tyranny of the Southern accent (at least, I don’t think their Flemish was accented…) and though placed into a loosely contemporary setting, the production achieves a similar kind of timelessness to van Hove’s A View From The Bridge, the original recast and refreshed, new angles and facets accentuated in the glass. 

Above all, the Wingfields have never felt so real, the family dynamic centred on Laura’s disability and her need for frequent physiotherapy. The ritual of massages and stretches reinforces the bond between mother-daughter-son, the intense feeling between them, but also the drudgery of their lives and the straitened circumstances in which they get by. Amanda’s need for gentlemen callers to propose to her daughter thus becomes a desperate strategy for financial security, the oppressive weight on Tom’s shoulders as the sole wage-earner in the household that much more powerfully felt.

Continue reading “Review: Glazen Speelgoed, Stadschouwburg Amsterdam”

Review: The Glass Menagerie, Richmond

“People are not so dreadful when you know them”

And so to the second of three The Glass Menageries in a month for me. Ellen McDougall’s production for Headlong has already played extensive runs in Leeds and Liverpool before nipping down to Richmond and Warwick for a week each and I was glad of the opportunity to see this most intriguing of directors (Henry the Fifth, Idomeneus, Anna Karenina) take on Tennessee Williams’ classic memory play. With ‘a frustrated mother, a daughter lost in her imagination, and a son intent on rebellion’, all this family needs to tip it right over the edge is an inopportune visit from a gentleman caller.

Whereas Samuel Hodges layered up the Wingfields’ existence with a scrapbook full of video references and visual cues, McDougall goes the opposite way in stripping the play to its bare bones, excavating existence through bodies alone with minimal props. Fly Davis’ design suspends the black box of Tom’s mind above water in which naturally only he can paddle, a space in which his memories play out or are perhaps trapped, like the characters themselves. A staircase at the rear leads only into darkness, there’s no real escape possible from the drudgery of life with all its anecdotes repeated ad nauseam.  Continue reading “Review: The Glass Menagerie, Richmond”