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”

Review: A Streetcar Named Desire, Curve Studio

“I tell what ought to be the truth“

I’ve only been to the Studio at Leicester’s Curve Theatre a couple of times but I’ve never seen it done up this much like a proper theatre with a balcony and all but such it is for Nikolai Foster’s production of A Streetcar Named Desire, his first at the venue where he is now Artistic Director. Tennessee Williams’ classic receives a rather traditional, if youthfully inclined, interpretation here which thus can’t help but pale a little in comparison to Benedict Andrews’ extraordinary reimagining for the Young Vic last year.

The challenges of the space are clear though in the sometimes challenging acoustics of the studio which, combined with an unstinting commitment to heavy accents, poses audibility issues throughout the production. Which is a shame as it really does look good – Michael Taylor’s set design perfectly evokes the faded grandeur and stifling intimacy of the French Quarter and Guy Hoare’s lighting suggests all of its carnivalesque atmosphere with its twinkling fairy lights and sultry red hues. Continue reading “Review: A Streetcar Named Desire, Curve Studio”

Review: The Glass Menagerie, Nuffield

“I am the narrator of the play, and also a character in it”

The first of what will be three productions of The Glass Menagerie in a month for me is Samuel Hodges’ directorial debut for Southampton’s Nuffield, where he happens to be Artistic Director and CEO. And taking a detailed look at Tennessee Williams’ original script for his most affecting of memory plays, he’s come up with a strikingly original vision for his production, an overtly theatrical rumination on the nature of storytelling and its challenges, particularly when the narrative is so intimately linked to one’s own experiences, as in the strongly autobiographical elements here.

So Danny Lee Wynter’s Tom, our notable narrator, begins the play at a mixing desk in the middle of the auditorium from where he declares he has “tricks in his pocket” and to where he periodically returns to comment on and further conduct and control the telling of his story. At times he grabs a microphone and climbs to the lip of the stage, reciting his lines as his presence is mimed by the others in the scene, at times he’s fully present in the play. And later, he’s a ghostly figure hugging the wall of the theatre – watching on ashamed, appalled, agonised as his actions wreak unintended havoc on his beloved emotionally fragile sister. Continue reading “Review: The Glass Menagerie, Nuffield”

Review: One Arm, Southwark Playhouse

“The loss of his arm had apparently dulled his senses”

Tennessee Williams’ One Arm started life in the 1940s as a short story, was turned into a screenplay which remained unproduced in the 1960s and now finds itself adapted into a stage play by Moisés Kaufman, receiving its UK premiere directed by Josh Seymour at the Southwark Playhouse. Champion boxer and serving in the American navy, Ollie Olsen life is turned upside down when he loses his arm in a car accident and turning to prostitution, finds himself sucked into a world of increasing darkness and ending up on death row. From his cell, he reflects on his life and the strange contours of its journey.

Kaufman is perhaps best known for The Laramie Project (which Seymour directed in Leicester in 2012) and elements of that patchwork approach remain here, as this play has snippets from the screenplay quoted directly, including scene transitions and settings, upping the metatheatricality around Ollie’s story. But as it progresses, this device loses prominence amongst an increasing sense of Ollie’s fevered dreamworld taking over, allowing Seymour to bring out more of his own theatrical vision as with the incorporation of John Ross’ movement. Continue reading “Review: One Arm, Southwark Playhouse”

Review: A Streetcar Named Desire, Young Vic

“I don’t tell the truth, I tell what ought to be the truth. And it that’s sinful, then let me be damned for it!”

As if you could hide the truth about this, surely destined to be one of the shows of the year. Benedict Andrews’ thoughtful updating of Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire makes it seem like the play has always lived in this era and these characters always as freshly vibrant as they are here. The work of Gillian Anderson, Vanessa Kirby and Ben Foster as Blanche, Stella and Stanley is extraordinarily done – the disturbing sheen of sexual violence a tangible and thoroughly believable threat throughout as Andrews pulls no punches in showing us how brutal this world is.

There’s no escaping it either as Magda Willi’s framelike design constantly revolves in front of us as we’re sat in the round. This choice works on so many levels – the dizzying descent that characterises Blanche’s downfall, the relentless passage of time, the voyeurism it provokes from the audience as we crane to see what it sometimes hidden from view (just like the passive neighbours in the New Orleans neighbourhood). It’s not always easy or comfortable but given what we’re watching, why the hell should we be?! Continue reading “Review: A Streetcar Named Desire, Young Vic”