The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore by Tennessee Williams. The Charing Cross Theatre, Villiers Street, London WC2 to 22 October 2022. 2** William Russell.

Rescuing a flop is always a challenge for any director so one can see why Robert Chevara was drawn to this Tennessee Williams 1963 play about the Widow Goforth dying in splendour in her Amalfi coast villa. It was written while his long time lover Frank Merlo was dying and Williams was much concerned about death, as is Flora who is a fine addition to his list of southern belles usually from the wrong side of the tracks. The first staging ran for some 59 performances, and one the following year with Talullhah Bankhead. for whom Flora had been written, lasted for five. It was made into a film for Burton and Taylor by Joseph Losey in 1968 called Boom and that too was a failure. In other words it seems to have defeated pretty well everyone who has taken it on although there was apparently a production with Olympia Dukakis as Flora which fared better.

Linda Marlowe makes a good Flora, but the fatal decision is not the casting but staging it traverse fashion. The Charing Cross auditorium is rather like a shoebox and putting the audience at either end leaves an unworkable acting area in between with the actors turning this way and that and spending far too much time talking to a blank wall in front of them.

The four times married Flora is a girl from the wrong side of the tracks who is living in luxury, Mr Goforth having been fabulously rich. She is dictating her memoirs to her put-upon secretary, knocking back pills and brandy and refusing to face up to the fact she is dying. The best moments come when she is visited by an old friend, also a star of the Amalfi coast, the Marchese Ridgeway-Condotti otherwise known as the Witch of Capri played by Sara Kestelman, a vision in red. She and Marlow spar splendidly with the Witch drinking, seducing the pretty, venal houseboy (Matteo Johnson) who obliges willingly as he knows there is something in it for him. Everything for a moment takes flight. But the point of the play, as the Witch reveals, is the strange poet who has turned up asking to see Flora, a very peculiar looking man called Christopher Flanders (Sanee Raval), known as a professional visitor to people who die – in other words he is the Angel of Death. Flora decides she would like one last fling, Christopher and she retire to her bedroom, she dies.

Chevara has made a bold attempt to rescue the play and Marlowe and Kestelman do not let him down but that initial decision to stage it in this bizarre traverse fashion meant he did not have a chance from the start.

Flora Goforth: Linda Marlowe.

Blackie: Lucy Shorthouse.

Christopher Flanders: Sanee Raval.

Rudy: Joe Ferrera.

Giulio: Matteo Johnson.

Witch of Capri: Sara Kestelman.

Director: Robert Chevara.

Set Designer: Nicolai Hart-Hansen.

Costume Designers: Nicolai Hart-Hansen & Robert Chevara.

Lighting Designer: Adam King.

Sound Designer: Joshua Robins.

Production photographs: Nick Haeffner.

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