BLIND DATE and 27 Wagons Full of Cotton
by Horton Foote by Tennessee Williams.
Riverside Studios (Studio 3) Crisp Road Hammersmith W6 9RL To 12 November 2011.
Tue-Sat 7.45pm Sun 5pm.
Runs 1hr 30min One interval.
Tickets: 0208 237 1111.
Review: William Russell 2 November.
Southern discomfort skilfully served.
Creating a double bill of one-act plays is tricky, but director Suresh Patel has managed well with this particular pairing. The first, Horton Foote’s Blind Date, is undeniably slight, a puff of theatrical air, but the scent lingers on.
A Southern matron, all social pretension and faded gentility, beautifully encapsulated by Louise Templeton, is trying to pair off her fat, plain and stubborn niece (Francesca Fenech) with a man – any man. She resorts in desperation to the nerd son of a neighbour (Sebastian Knapp). The date is a disaster, and yet the play ends with the slightest of hope for the future – if only the adults would leave the two young people alone.
Foote is little known here, although he did win two Academy Awards for his screenplays, one for To Kill a Mockingbird, and he had a substantial career as a dramatist on and Off-Broadway. This little play is too slight, perhaps, to spark greater interest in his work, but it is beautifully crafted and very well acted.
The second half is devoted to 27 Wagons Full of Cotton, a much more substantial affair. It has all the ingredients one expects of Williams – a brutish older man, a rampant stud, and a silly, vulnerable young woman married to the older man. It is the world he expanded in Baby Doll.
Francesca Fenech, transformed from lump of lard to a sexy voluptuous woman, is heartbreaking as the woman exploited and abused by the men in her life. Ross Ericson is suitably nasty as the husband, and Sebastian Knapp makes the transformation from nerd to Italian American stallion with astonishing ease.
The brute has burnt down his neighbour’s gin mill, times being hard. The neighbour gives him his cotton to treat in his gin, and the wife reveals accidentally what her husband did. The neighbour takes revenge. It is a powerful little tale and Fenech is very fine indeed.
Robert: Ross Ericson.
Dolores: Louise Templeton.
Sarah Nancy: Francesca Fenech.
Felix: Sebastian Knapp.
27 Wagons Full of Cotton:
Flora: Francesca Fenech.
Jake: Ross Ericson.
Vicarro: Sebastian Knapp.
Director: Suresh Patel.
Set Consultant: Helen Coyston
Lighting: Chris Withers.
Costume: Pam Tait.