The Two Character Play by Tennessee Williams. Hampstead Theatre to 28 August 2021. 3*** William Russell.

It takes time to grasp just what is going on in this undeniably clever and stylish production directed by Same Yates of Tennessee Williams’ 1967 play wi which he said was “his most beautiful play since Streetcar.” That is as may be but it is undeniably very difficult to follow as it is a play within a play – two actors, Clare and Felice, abandoned by their troupe decide the show must go on despite the set being incomplete and having to do all the work. It is about two siblings trapped in the family home from which somehow it is impossible to escape. Something happened in their past involving death, and a pistol, lost somewhere in the house, an insurance policy that cannot be cashed, and on top of all that they are engaged in a battle of personalities and wills. She cannot bring herself to leave the house, he has hidden the gun somewhere and there is ammunition around as well. Wil it be used? Was it used to kill their father? Why can they not claim the insurance they may be entitled to? Is she in the throes of a breakdown? Is he homicidal? Is she?
On top of that the set is incomplete – the troupe has left without bringing all that is needed on stage – so we move from the reality of the actors’ plight trying to perform in a living room lacking walls and doors in the right place to the world of the play. It happens more or less seamlessly but keeps one wondering just which world on is in. It gets very complicated and it does last for over two hours – not an easy ride to say the least.
There is also a false ending which messes everything up even more. But the performances are impressive with Varla and O’Flynn moving from their own speech to that of the deep south in an a flash, doubling as scene shifters, working the sound system, blowing bubbles – part of an idylic past I think -and becoming threatening out of the blue. Director Sam Yates. with the help of some amazing video projections by Akhola Krishnad. has put it all together on stage very impressively as we move from one reality to another, or rather, since both realities are, of course, fiction from one lie to the next.

Felice: Zuban Varla.
Clare: Kate O’Flynn.

Director: Sam Yates.
Photograph? Marc Brenner

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