by Tennessee Williams.
Royal and Derngate, Northampton in rep to 14 November 2009.
7.45pm 26, 28, 31 Oct, 2-3, 5-6, 11, 14 Nov.
2pm 29 Oct, 7, 12 Nov.
Audio-described 26 Oct.
BSL Signed 28 Oct.
Runs 2hr 40min One interval.
TICKETS: 01604 624811.
Review: Ian Spiby 22 October.
Flawed production rescued by the actors.
The second part of Northampton’s ’ Young America’ season, Tennessee Williams’ Spring Storm is a distinctly better play than O’Neill’s Beyond the Horizon. Written in 1937, and only rediscovered in 1996, this is its European premiere.
The plot bears some similarities to O’Neill’s play, which Williams had almost certainly read. Two men, the bookish, pampered Arthur and the wild, free Dick love the same woman, Heavenly Critchford. The play charts her struggle to choose between them, against the stultifying atmosphere and restrictions of small-town Southern society. Great emphasis is placed, as always in Williams, physical passion’s power to transform.
All the playwright’s familiar hallmarks are here. There are weaknesses of construction and development, particularly in the second half, but his touch is surer with characterization. We see fascinating glimpses of future plays – Arthur will become Tom Wingfield and Esmeralda his mother, Amanda, in The Glass Menagerie. Dick and Heavenly are prototypes for Stanley and Blanche in A Streetcar Named Desire.
Most interesting though, is that Williams’ unique atmosphere and use of visual and aural images are already firmly in place. It’s in this area the production mainly falls down.
Director Laurie Sansom, usually sure-footed, and designer Sara Perks actually seem to be working against the play. Bizarrely, it’s set on a rubbish dump, with the detritus of society lying around. The various scenes: drawing room, lawn, public library, are created out of it. This can be seen as representing a corrupt society or the decay of the Old South, but the loss to the play is immense. In addition, aural images are swamped by a general wash in Christopher Shutt’s sound design.
The result is that the actors have to work so much harder. And they do – triumphantly. The main burden of responsibility lies on the shoulders of Liz White; as Heavenly, she may well be giving the performance of her life, finely supported by Michael Malarkey and Michael Thomson as Arthur and Dick, plus, particularly, Jacqueline King as Esmeralda. Together they negotiate the young playwright’s long series of duologues with great skill to produce an engrossing evening of theatre.
Heavenly Critchfield: Liz white.
Dick Miles: Michael Thomson.
Mabel: Laura Paterson.
Mrs Lamphrey/Mrs Bridie Schlagmann: Janice Mackenzie.
Arthur Shannon: Michael Malarkey.
Hertha Neilson: Anna Tolputt.
Esmerelda Critchfield: Jacqueline King.
Aunt Lila Critchfield: Joanna Bacon.
Oliver Critchfield: James Jordan.
Henry Adams/Ralph: Gavin Harrison.
Director: Laurie Sansom.
Designer: Sarah Perks.
Lighting: Chris Davey.
Sound: Christopher Shutt.
Composer: Jon Nichols.
Dialect coach: Rebecca Carey.