Southern Belles – a Tennessee Williams double bill. The King’s Head Theatre, 115 Upper Strreet, Islington N1. to 24 August. 3***. William Russell

London
Southern Belles
Two one act plays by Tennessee Williams
Something Unspoken & And Tell Sad Stories of the Death of Queens.
3***
The King’s Head Theatre, 115 Upper Street, Islington, N1. 1QN to 24 August 2019.
Tues-Sat 7pm Mat Sun 3pm.
Runs 100 mins One interval.
TICKETS: 0207 226 8561/www.boxoffice@kingsheadtheatre.com

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Review: William Russell 26 July.

The problem with ground breaking plays is that what was ground breaking half a century ago can be yesterday’s mashed potatoes today. These two Tennessee Williams one act plays are of interest and make a good opening to this year’s King’s Head theatre Queer season but in spite of some fine performances, particularly from Annabel Leventon and Fiona Marr in Something Unspoken, which opens the evening, and Jamie Armitage’s assured direction it all adds up to precious little. Williams is examining his usual themes, loneliness, alienation from the society the characters live in, and sex but the result is a rather flimsy feast. The opening play Something Unspoken is little more than an extended revue sketch as unpopular New Orleans matron frets in a series of phone calls about not getting the chair of the patriotic society she thinks is hers by right and abuses her devoted secretary companion. As the matron Annabel Leventon is wonderfully condescending and self centred, while Fiona Marr matches her with the portrait of the church mouse companion perfectly. They are, of course, although it will probably never be admitted or happen, in love. It is a tiny world of frustration. The longer second piece And Tell Sad Stories of the Deaths of Queens was written in 1955, the same year as Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. It is the only Williams play to deal with openly gay characters and was not performed in his life time – his plays, of course, are full of people struggling with their sexuality. A New Orleans interior designer ditched by his sugar daddy for a younger man has been left with their business and a collection of apartments he rents to gay men. Luke Mullins gives a splendid performance as Candy, a deeply unhappy, lonely transvestite who longs to become a daddy in turn and has chosen a sailor, a bit of rough he has picked up in a bar, for the role. The sailor, who knows perfectly well what he has to do – take the cash and beat the queen up – goes along with the fantasy as Candy dresses up as his female alter ego and offers him the world. It is a bit like Blanche and Stanley in Street Car as they parry and cavort, but while it might have been groundbreaking then to put people like this on stage today’s stages are cluttered with such people and while one’s sympathies are aroused by the pathetic Candy he/she is not as weak as all that. Candy got the business, Candy will survive being 35 and getting old, being bashed up by someone she should have had nothing to do with and should have listened to her tenants upstairs who interrupt the action towards the end. Armitage has dressed the evening with some songs sung sweetly by Ben Chinapen which only add the flimsiness of it all rather then setting things in a context. George Fletcher oozes butch brutality as the sailor who shatters Candy’s carefully constructed world – although he won’t be the last to do so by any means. It is an evening to go to for the players and to see two minor Williams works. If the plays were better the stars would be more numerous – the performances really cannot be faulted. But the decision to play them barefoot is a mistake – bare feet are seldom objects of beauty although admittedly of lust for some.

Something Unspoken
Cornelia: Annabel Leventon.
Grace: Fiona Marr.
And Tell Sad Stories of the Deaths of Queens.
Candy: Luke Mullins.
Karl: George Fletcher.
Alvin: Michael Burrows.
Jerry: Ben Chinapen.

Director: Jamie Armitage.
Designer: Sarah Mercade.
Lighting Designer: Ben Jacobs.
Musical Director: Joe Beighton.
Dialect Coach: Kay Welch.
Production photographs: Scott Rylander.

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