A DISTANT COUNTRY CALLED YOUTH
by Tennessee Williams adapted by Steve Lawson.
Through the Looking Glass Productions at Mill Studio Yvonne Arnaud Theatre To 23 October 2010.
Runs 1hr 30min No interval.
Review Mark Courtice 22 October.
A Hell of a Life.
Tennessee Williams wrote some of the great plays of the last century and as he mined his chaotic life for themes and characters it’s fun to recognise these as they appear in Steve Lawson’s cut-and-paste job from the playwright’s letters, written from the time he left home to the Broadway triumph of The Glass Menagerie.
It was a life that must have been hell to live; his parents were difficult, his sister often in mental institutions and Tom (as Tennessee was born) lived as a perpetual outsider; gay, continually on the move, taking menial jobs so he could write. But it bore fruit in drama redolent with poetry, passion and theatricality.
Some of his letters have these qualities, and they help this play take off sporadically, but it throws up some theatrical challenges. We see Williams in a room with desk, couch and typewriter. There is a coat stand with jackets on it. The extent of the action is that he moves about the room, and changes his jacket or a tie.
For the entire 90 minutes we hear only one voice, we see from only one perspective, and it seems unrealistic to have expected him to shift up an artistic gear to transform his everyday letters into a more rewarding experience.
There is flickering wit (including a terrific description of a Mexican brothel), there are some moments of genuine pathos, but it feels like a lot is missing. A letter to Kit Kiernan (a lover who’s stopped writing) resounds with feeling, but about the rest of that passion we hear nothing; presumably there are no letters about it.
Oliver Andrews imbues Tennessee with a mordant humanity, veering between the needy and triumphant, randy and inconsolable. He sounds great, just like Tennessee, as he flings himself across the constrained space of the room.
David Wike’s British premiere production is given the best shot of a very capable team. They seize on the moments when Williams’ words take flight, but too often this isn’t "Chekov but sadder and wilder," as Tennessee knew his plays to be.
Tennessee: Oliver Andrews.
Director: David Wike.
Lighting: Justin Stratton.
Composer: David B. Morgan.
Choreographer: Jill Francis.
Costume: Nina Bence.
Vocal coach Barbara Ward.