KINGDOM OF EARTH
by Tennessee Williams.
The Print Room 34 Hereford Road W2 5AJ To 28 May 2011.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat 3pm.
Post-show Discussion 19 May.
Pre-show talks: Mon 7pm.
TICKETS: 08444 77 1000.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 9 May.
Earthbound to a fault, a play most interesting for reflecting the author’s better works.
Childlike innocence may fit the Kingdom of Heaven, but its earthly equivalent is gained by muckier means. And earth is no everlasting kingdom, at least not when a flooding Mississippi threatens it. When that happens, the only safe place is up on the roof.
Neither dying Lot nor pick-up wife Myrtle can make their way there unaided, giving bargaining-power to Lot’s half-brother Chicken – a misleading name for David Sturzaker’s physically strong, wily farmer, keeping his half-brother’s place going and planning to wrest ownership for himself, satisfying his sense of racial inferiority.
First a story, then a play, a film and finally a reworked play, Kingdom of Earth finally emerged on stage in 1975. In Britain it’s rarely been seen since its 1978 appearance in Bristol. A chequered history – Williams once called it The Seven Descents of Myrtle, a misfire of his type of fanciful title – for material that shocked considerably in its early days, but was already superseded by the seventies.
Lot, consumptive, hair dyed blonde, fixated on his mother (no longer present) and her clothes (still around), delicate yet petulant in manner, screams ‘faggot’ way too easily, while his worries over satisfying Myrtle sexually compound the stereotype, making him much less interesting than Cat On A Hot Tin Roof’s Brick, whose hidden sexuality’s covered by marriage and drink.
And ex-showgirl Myrtle’s battles with Chicken are a lesser recreation of the DuBois/Kowalski contest in Streetcar, while there’s a drag Amanda Wingfield in Lot’s dressing-up, thereby hauling in Glass Menagerie.
From outspoken to derivative before it hit the stage; not a good fate. And though Sturzaker establishes his character’s aggressive, mixed-race identity in the most complex performance, especially in his brushes with Myrtle’s racist fragility, Lucy Bailey’s production has more theatrical energy than dramatic depth, while the earth mound constituting Ruth Sutcliffe’s set is thematically apt, visually striking and impractical as characters totter over it (what chances of a twisted ankle or two before the run ends?). And any grounding of realism – such as Lot resting in a chair, or believable cooking – to anchor the storm of words, is lost.
Chicken: David Sturzaker.
Myrtle: Fiona Glascott.
Lot: Joseph Drake.
Director: Lucy Bailey.
Designer: Ruth Sutcliffe.
Lighting: Oliver Fenwick.
Sound/Music: Tim Adnitt.
Dialect coaches: Kara Tsiperas, Kay Welsh.
Assistant director: Robyn Winfield Smith.