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”

Review: The Hotel Plays, Langham Hotel

“The world is a circle, and everything comes back to where it started”

A soldier on leave, a lover in the cupboard, an actress in her dotage; newlyweds, mistresses, hucksters; satin pyjamas, warm croissants, endless liquor. Such is the stuff of many a hotel and in the plush surroundings of the Langham, London, all of the above and more can be found in Defibrillator Theatre Company’s revival of The Hotel Plays, a suite of three Tennessee Williams short plays performed in three suites in the hotel itself.

Site-specific performances are sometimes guilty of square peg round hole syndrome but here, the marriage of material and setting is perfect. The seating may not always be the most comfortable but that’s only right as we’re the ones eavesdropping on the private affairs unfolding in these most intimate of surroundings, flies on the wall of Williams’ mini-universes full of heartbreak, hedonism and heists. Continue reading “Review: The Hotel Plays, Langham Hotel”

Review: Secret Theatre Show 1 and Secret Theatre Show 2, Lyric Hammersmith

“You must think us a right rough bunch of people”

How long can you keep a secret? How long should you keep a secret? As it turns out, critics were tweeting the title of the Lyric Hammersmith’s ‘Secret Theatre Show 2’ as soon as they could get their phones on in the interval, unleashing a flurry of outraged blogs and tweets which argued both sides of the toss – it was either like Christmas being ruined or one of the least important parts of the whole experience. That experience is Secret Theatre, an ambitious 8 month programme launched by the Lyric’s Sean Holmes which has pulled together an ensemble of 20 creatives who will produce 7 shows over the period. But the key is that the titles are kept from us, no programmes are for sale on arrival and so technically you take your place in the auditorium, which is mid-renovation, not knowing what the curtain will rise upon.

A quick scoot around the internet will reveal the titles of Secret Theatre Show 1 and Secret Theatre Show 2 which have now opened but in the spirit of the whole affair – after all as we leave, we are urged “Shhh. Keep the secret…” – this review won’t spill the beans too much. We live in a spoiler-saturated society now when it comes to much of our popular culture and so whilst it may not be to everyone’s taste, the unique thrill of knowing nothing in advance is one to savour. It also leads to the intriguing question of when recognition of what play is being performed will come, indeed if at all for it could be a piece of new writing, experienced theatregoers should be fine but new audiences have the opportunity to possibly experience some of the greatest writing of last century as if it were a brand new play and that is what is genuinely exciting about this enterprise. Continue reading “Review: Secret Theatre Show 1 and Secret Theatre Show 2, Lyric Hammersmith”

Review: Sweet Bird of Youth, Old Vic

“A lot of folks say they like what I did but they don’t like the way I did it”

There’s much to admire about the Old Vic’s lavish production of Tennessee Williams’ Sweet Bird of Youth, but ultimately I found little to really love as its three hours meander their way through its uneventful beginnings to a far-from-revelatory conclusion. Its big selling point is the return of Kim Cattrall to our stage, playing fading Hollywood star Alexandra Del Lago who is in hiding in a Florida hotel after a disastrous movie premiere which was designed to be a grand comeback. Helping her over her trauma is a handsome gigolo named Chance who fancies himself as an actor but finding himself in his hometown, has to deal with the demons of his past.

The play feels scuppered from the start by the lengthy two-hander which dominates the opening. Cattrall is excellent, if a little too luminous to really convince as a past-it star, as Del Lago rails against the movie system that has made her who she is and can yet still spit her out at the merest hint of failure. The problem lies with the character of Chance, Williams’ predilection for martyrish tendencies not backed up with anywhere near enough depth of character to make us care for someone intended to be a tragic hero. Seth Numrich does well in layering in as much nuance as he can but never really convinces as far as the chemistry between the pair goes, a near-fatal mis-step for me and one from which the play never recovered.

Continue reading “Review: Sweet Bird of Youth, Old Vic”

Review: Orpheus Descending, Royal Exchange

“I’m not interested in your perfect functions”

It is often the case with lesser performed works by well-known playwrights that there’s a reason why they don’t occupy the same place in the canon, and so it was with this production of Tennessee Williams’ 1957 play Orpheus Descending which I managed to squeeze into the end of a hectic work trip to Manchester. It is unmistakeably his work: elements like the oppressive heat of the Deep South, repressed passion and a mismatched couple are present and correct. But there’s also a lugubrious pace and a patchwork quilt of superfluous supporting characters which helps to explain its relative obscurity.

Lady Torrance is an unhappily married Mississippi store-owner whose head is well and truly turned with the arrival of handsome young drifter Val. He’s escaping his past but finds himself in the most stifling kind of narrow-minded community as they react against him. At the same time though, he offers the potential of a way out for Lady who dares to dream of a more liberated future, but the constraints of her present circumstances and the ever-powerful echoes of the horrific past mean nothing is easy. Continue reading “Review: Orpheus Descending, Royal Exchange”

Review: Vieux Carré, King’s Head

“What a remarkable tableau vivant”

Though some of Tennessee Williams’ works are considered amongst the finest plays ever written, his legacy as a truly great playwright is something that has developed posthumously. He continued to produce considerable amounts of writing until the day that he died in 1983 but its critical reception was increasingly poor and so much of the latter part of his body of work has remained neglected. His 1977 play Vieux Carré hasn’t been seen in London since 1978 (although part of it formed part of another Williams play I Never Get Dressed Till After Dark On Sundays which played at the Cock Tavern as part of a double bill of unperformed works) but now receives a rare revival at the King’s Head Theatre in north London.

Often, the delving into the little-performed parts of established playwrights’ back catalogues reveals a good reason as to why they have largely on the shelves, but Robert Chevara’s production shimmers with Southern heat and captivating character work to make this a rediscovery worth taking considerable note of. Nicolai Hart Hansen’s set design wisely strips things back to distressed brick walls, maximising the space available into which three beds, a dinner table and a throw-covered grand piano are squeezed to evoke the rooming house of Mrs Wire, on 722 Toulouse in the French Quarter of New Orleans. We start with the figure of The Writer recalling the time he spent there and switch back in time to see him as a callow young man, newly arrived from St Louis and nervously struggling with his unfamiliar surroundings. Continue reading “Review: Vieux Carré, King’s Head”