Not-a-Review: Summer and Smoke, Southwark Playhouse

“The girl who said ‘No’, she doesn’t exist anymore, she died last summer – suffocated in smoke from something on fire inside her.”

Yet another rarely performed Tennessee Williams play has made its way onto the London fringe, in this case it is a short run of Summer and Smoke at the Southwark Playhouse. But it was in the Vault rather than the main house and directed by Rebecca Frecknell with little appreciation for the acoustics of this particularly unforgiving space (which as a deaf person I have previously found to be rather challenging) and so after suffering with not being able to hear much of what was going on or indeed figure out what was happening, I bailed at the interval. If you want to know what it was like, read this review instead.

Running time: 2 hours 40 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 30th June

 

Review: A Streetcar Named Desire, Liverpool Playhouse

“You take it for granted that I am in something that I want to get out of”

Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire seems an unlikely choice to put on in a chilly March in Liverpool – the Donmar’s 2009 production took place at the height of summer – but Gemma Bodinetz’s production succeeds utterly in raising the temperature to create a rather stunning account of this classic play which remains taut and gripping throughout. When Blanche DuBois is forced to throw herself on the mercy of her sister Stella in her tiny New Orleans apartment, Blanche is ill-prepared for the clash of class, culture and character that comes from such proximity to Stella’s husband Stanley as he sets about dismantling her delusions of grandeur with chilling cruelty.

The stifling heat of the French Quarter, and the ever-constricting atmosphere are perfectly simulated here in Gideon Davey’s design (plus special credit to Paul Keogan’s lighting) and Bodinetz expertly increases the pressure in ever-increasing increments to an almost unbearable level. There is dark stuff contained in here, I’d forgotten just how dark myself, yet we’re constantly reminded of Williams’ point that the world is full of pain and suffering and most people just get on with it. Yet Blanche has retreated from reality, glass in hand, Stanley’s completely differing take on life set him on a collision course with her and we are spared none of the violence as class warfare degenerates into domestic abuse on a horrific level. Continue reading “Review: A Streetcar Named Desire, Liverpool Playhouse”

Review: Kingdom of Earth, The Print Room

“Anything worth having or doing in this world is risky”

Terence Rattigan has received a lot of attention in his centenary year with productions of his shows filling theatres across the land, but it is also the anniversary of Tennessee Williams’ 100th birthday this year which has been generally marked by much more low-key productions of his lesser-known works, including this 1968 work Kingdom of Earth which is presented at the West London venue The Print Room.

Set in the 1960s in an isolated ruined farmhouse in the Mississippi Delta, a sick young man Lot returns to his birthplace with his new wife, showgirl Myrtle. But he arrives to find that there is a huge impending flood about to engulf the region and his estranged half-brother Chicken is living in the house. As Lot retires to the comfort of his mother’s old bedroom and wardrobe and his illness takes a turn for the worse, Chicken seizes the chance to ensure that his legacy and claim to the family property is not affected by the presence of his rival’s new wife. Myrtle is thus caught in the power struggle between these brothers as they battle for ownership, and not just of the house. Continue reading “Review: Kingdom of Earth, The Print Room”

Review: I Never Get Dressed Till After Dark On Sundays, Cock Tavern

“I sense this is going to be a sticky run-through”

I Never Get Dressed Till After Dark On Sundays is one of two Tennessee Williams’ plays, previously unperformed, which the Cock Tavern are putting on to mark what would have been his 100th birthday year. I Never Get Dressed… is actually an unpublished work, being written in 1970 immediately after his departure from rehab.

Tye and Jane are two lovers in a bedsit in a sleazy quarter of 1970s New Orleans. He is a stripper, in cahoots with the gangster running the place and driving Jane up the wall with his lazy promiscuous ways. She’s a New Yorker, a former actress trying to make it as a fashion designer but struggling to attract the right interest without having to sell herself. As ever with Williams’, the characters fit into recognizable archetypes: Tye is a strapping brute and indeed the word strapping might have been invented for the bear-ish Lewis Hayes who spends a large proportion of the play in just a flesh-coloured jockstrap; and Jane is a fragile soul, disturbed by the chatter of tourists outside, her decline into poverty, played well by Shelley Lang and they make a destructively persuasive couple. But that is not all. Continue reading “Review: I Never Get Dressed Till After Dark On Sundays, Cock Tavern”

Review: The Glass Menagerie, Young Vic

“The window is filled with pieces of coloured glass, tiny transparent bottles in delicate colours, like bits of shattered rainbow.”

Continuing the Young Vic’s 40th anniversary season, a new revival of Tennessee Williams’ classic The Glass Menagerie arrives in the main house directed by Joe Hill-Gibbins and featuring an exciting cast. One of his earliest plays and consequently one of his most autobiographical, it is set in 1937 in the city of St Louis, Missouri where the Wingfields live close to the poverty line. Mother Amanda dreams of her girlhood in the Deep South and the husband that left her, son Tom dreams of leaving his full factory job and pursuing his dreams and fragile daughter Laura is happy as she is in her own quiet world but as her mother is determined to secure a better future for the children, she pushes Tom to finding a suitable ‘gentleman caller’ for his sister with devastating effects.

Opening with an introduction to the world of memory plays, for this is what The Glass Menagerie is, narrated by an older version of Tom, the action starts with a gorgeous little coup de theatre revealing the Wingfields’ apartment on the corner stage. As Dario Marianell’s music is played live on stage by Eliza McCarthy on the piano and Simon Allen on a range of instruments including music boxes and a table of water glasses which provide a beautifully evocative soundscape: Allen also provides live sound effects which are neatly done, especially on the staircase and James Farncombe’s evocative lighting shines across the stage, the play is atmospherically set somewhere between memory and reality, helped by the levels built into Jeremy Herbert’s set design. Continue reading “Review: The Glass Menagerie, Young Vic”

Review: The Two-Character Play, Jermyn Street

“This still feels like a performance of The Two-Character Play”

So much of Tennessee Williams’ work bears the influence of his relationship with his beloved sister but nowhere is he more nakedly autobiographical than in The Two-Character Play, one of his later, rarely performed works from 1967. Featuring a brother and sister who endlessly re-enact a play about a brother and sister called The Two-Character Play; it is a highly introspective piece of work which is considerably more experimental than fans of his work might be used to, but surreally beautiful and recognisable as Williams.

Clare and Felice are abandoned by their theatre company, stuck in an emptying provincial theatre, yet the play must go on as they struggle to get through the performance, it having particular personal resonance to them. Both physically and emotionally in a no-man’s-land, this pair struggle for resolution yet are terribly scared of it: the portrait of confusion, the slow slide into madness, is all the more moving considering that both Williams and his sister ended up in mental institutions. Continue reading “Review: The Two-Character Play, Jermyn Street”

Review: The Notebook of Trigorin, Finborough

“You understand how the world turns on successfully practised duplicity? On cunning lies?”

I think Phil Willmott and I would be very good friends. Creator of two of my favourite musicals in recent months, joyous works both, and whilst I may not have entirely approved of F**king Men, I can see where he’s coming from as it were. So I was quite upset when Phil went and ruined our friendship by choosing Chekhov as his next project, why Phil why? Still, all is not lost as it is at least Chekhov once removed.

The Notebook of Trigorin is described as a ‘free adaptation’ of Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull by American playwright Tennessee Williams. It’s quite the moment for Williams rarities in London with one of his earlier plays Spring Storm at the National Theatre and this Notebook both being performed for the first time in the capital. It mostly follows the plot of Chekhov’s original, so Masha loves Constantine who loves Nina who loves Trigorin who is also loved by Arkadina. Williams’ conceit is to make Trigorin the focus of the play and with more than a hint of autobiographical detail, makes him a closeted homosexual. So the tangle of relationships, with the destructive mother/son dynamic between Arkadina and Constantine at its core, becomes centred around the self-possessed Trigorin who is in the midst of all the tragedy in the play, yet remains unscathed by it. Continue reading “Review: The Notebook of Trigorin, Finborough”

Review: Spring Storm, National Theatre

“I don’t know anything about Strindberg but it don’t sound practical to me”

The other part of the Young America mini-season at the National, Spring Storm is Tennessee Williams’ second play, written whilst still at college and this is apparently the first time the play has been performed in Europe. Set in the Mississippi delta, Southern belle Heavenly has almost everything a young woman could desire, but when she’s forced to decide between dull and respectable suitor Arthur and her handsome, wild lover Dick, her actions cause a chain of consequences that tear their lives apart.

I loved the fact that the central love triangle was cast the same as in Beyond the Horizon. As the impassioned Heavenly, Liz White is superb, throwing herself about with gay abandon in search of the grand amour that will satisfy her beating heart but also aware of the need to secure her position in life to avoid spinsterhood. Her performance here could have been the younger cousin of Rachel Weisz’s Blanche DuBois, one can definitely see how Williams’ incubated that character here. As her suitors, Michael Malarkey does better as the dull and mannered but rich Arthur, playing him with a real note of sadness , carrying much baggage from childhood. As the more masculine, rugged Dick, Michael Thomson brings such a real sexuality and physicality that one can see why Heavenly is reluctant to quit him, but it would have been nice to see more to him than the dumb jock. Continue reading “Review: Spring Storm, National Theatre”

Review: Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, Novello

Seeing a deal on lastminute for restricted view tickets for a tenner, I thought I’d squeeze this revival of Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof in for a Saturday matinee, but was almost jeopardised by the seats we were allocated: seats AA1&2 in the Grand Circle don’t actually have a restricted view of the stage, because you are actually facing the audience! The seats are about 120 degrees to the stage so you’re basically facing most of the Grand Circle, a great opportunity to fulfil my Glenn Close in Dangerou Liaisons  fantasy, but not the best for playwatching. To see the stage, you need to twist round and then lean quite far forward, which then forces everyone else in the row to lean too. Fortunately, with a house that was only 75% full, we were able to relocate at the end of the first act, but it is truly outrageous that these seats are up for sale at all.

As for the play itself, it is an updated version relocated into the 1980s according to the show literature, although there were curiously few references to this and I don’t think I would have worked it out had I not been informed of it. It’s a tale of a wealthy landowning family who are struggling to conceal the cracks caused by repressed homosexuality, inheritance struggles, alcoholism and the shadow of terminal illness, and I suppose the one benefit of shifting the timing of the play enables the fact that the cast are all black to be not considered an issue. Continue reading “Review: Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, Novello”

Review: A Streetcar Named Desire, Donmar

Maintaining its recent history of strong female-centred drama, the Donmar’s latest production is A Streetcar Named Desire and the star name this time round is Rachel Weisz, although she is ably supported by some strong upcoming talent. Not being a fan of old films, I had no idea of the story and I think this added considerably to my enjoyment.

 

It tells the story of Blanche DuBois, a figure with a tragic past, who turns up unannounced at her sister Stella’s apartment in 1940s New Orleans. The apartment is very small but Blanche’s personality is most certainly not, and so the pressures on Stella and her husband Stanley Kowalski build up, as they struggle to wade through Blanche’s smokescreens and ascertain the real reasons for the unexpected visit. Continue reading “Review: A Streetcar Named Desire, Donmar”