by Tennessee Williams.
Nuffield Theatre University Road SO17 1TR To 13 October 2012.
Tue-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat 3pm.
Runs 2hr One interval.
TICKETS: 023 8067 1771.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 6 October.
Atmospheric build-up in another of Williams’ studies in southern fragility.
Entering the final year of his quarter-century as Artistic Director at Southampton’s Nuffield, Patrick Sandford has a lot to his credit – new plays, thoughtful revivals, including a 1950s-set All’s Well That Ends Well, opportunities given to emerging artists – like designers Juliet Shillingford and Ti Green – and persistent intelligence, avoiding the showily meretricious for quieter, true dramatic values.
For which he’s been largely ignored on the national scene. In 2009 London’s Donmar was praised for A Streetcar Named Desire with a Blanche Dubois as young as 38. Barely anyone noticed that the previous year Sandford’s Nuffield Streetcar had blazed, as the only national critic who saw it recognised, with a Blanche of 30, precisely the right age.
She is also associate director for Sandford’s return to Tennessee Williams, with the British premiere of the stage version, more sexually frank than fifties Hollywood allowed, of his filmscript Baby Doll. It’s a moody piece, where drunken Archie Lee blows up a rival’s cotton gin to increase his own trade, while awaiting his young wife’s 20th birthday, which ends his vow of keeping his hands – and everything else – off her.
But the gin’s owner is onto him – and his wife Baby Doll, whose moral caution he wears down through much of the first act, till he knows his physical assault will be physically welcomed. It’s seen through the transparency of designer Agnes Dewhurst’s two-storey set, suggesting visually the different fragilities of Baby Doll and tough-seeming Archie Lee, which gives way under drink to the Sicilian Silva, who’s undermining Archie from all sides.
Sandford creates a dark, sultry mood, menace building slow as Baby Doll’s mind, none-too-bright inside her innocent head, in Rose Reynolds’ confidently detailed professional debut. A strong performance right to the end, where she swings purposelessly on the porch, Reynolds catches Baby Doll’s glamorous innocence, mixing caution and openness, contrasted by Owen Oakeshott’s sweating, pugnaciously defensive Archie Lee.
As his smarter rival, Ed Cooper Clarke is sharp and purposeful, while Janet Henfrey gives a vivid pity to the old relative, fearful of her place as her mind slowly crumbles.
Baby Doll Meighan: Rose Reynolds.
Aunt Rose Comfort McCorkie: Janet Henfrey.
Ruby Lightfoot: Nicola Blackman.
Two-bits: Lance Matongo/Taylor Young.
Archie Lee Meighan: Owen Oakeshott.
Silva Vaccaro: Ed Cooper Clarke.
Rock/Musician: Jack Benjamin.
Sherriff Coglan: Matt Devereaux.
Removal Men/Gin Workers: Jake Barinov, Richard Gunston, Tony Burgess.
Director: Patrick Sandford.
Designer: Agnes Dewhurst.
Lighting: David W Kidd.
Sound: Rob Jones.
Musical Director: Matt Devereaux.
Fight director: Paul Benzing.
Associate director: Katherine Tozer.