by Tennessee Williams.
King’s Head Theatre 115 Upper Street N1 1QN To 4 August 2012.
Tue-Sat 7.15pm Sun 3pm.
Runs 2hr 15min One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7478 0160.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 15 July.
Rude wake-up call for dreams in Tennessee’s New Orleans home.
Both Nottingham Playhouse (twice) and Manchester Library Theatre have successfully produced Tennessee Williams’ 1977 play. Based in the memory of a young writer, Tom, it recalls The Glass Menagerie, though it’s less intensely autobiographical, and has elements of both its 1938 origins, and completion a writing lifetime later.
Even on the Library’s small stage the action seemed crowded as it moved between rooms in Mrs Wire’s New Orleans boarding-house, its residents either transient or trapped. Now, director Robert Chevara exploits the King’s Head’s tiny stage, replacing dreamy echoes from the past with a hard-hitting directness apparent from the sudden lighting changes and thumping sounds that brutally open and close each act. Like the naked light-bulb in A Streetcar Named Desire the method reveals limitations, but also the play’s strengths.
Self-deceptions abound, while the depredations of old gay painter Nightingale – constricted by tuberculosis, his hacking cough displacing him on hygienic grounds from his portrait pitch outside a café – as he pores over the writer’s young body and seeks sexual contact, is played bang in front of the audience, David Whitworth’s Nightingale full of sexual longing amid life’s last dregs, till death brings a sentimental benediction.
There are other raw edges, but Williams’ powerful understanding of those who struggle to survive is evident. Samantha Coughlan’s sickly, delicately self-deluding, Jane, come down in the world like Blanche Dubois, fights in bed with and for Paul Standell’s Tye, a strip-joint bouncer defiantly defending his heterosexual self-belief. Mary Maude ad Miss Carrie cling together in indigent old age for protection against an uncaring world as their birdlike figures slowly starve and shrivel in face of their landlady’s contempt. Seen briefly, waiting to gain some food with a half-concealed saucepan, Anna Kirke and Hildegard Neil show Williams’ feeling for those too old to dream of a better life.
Complete with the cataract afflicting the young Williams, Tom is mainly passive, almost arbitrarily leaving this place. The sense of lives overwhelmed is finally seen in Nancy Crane’s landlady, hopeful and commanding at first, optimistically opening a lunch-room in the old house, before losing her grip on life.
Jane: Samantha Coughlan.
Mrs Wire: Nancy Crane.
Nursie: Eva Fontaine.
Mary Maude: Anna Kirke.
Sky/Photographer/Hustler: Jack McMillan.
Miss Carrie: Hildegard Neil.
The Writer: Tom Ross-Williams.
Tye: Paul Standell.
Nightingale/Judge: David Whitworth.
Director: Robert Chevara.
Designer: Nicolai Hart-Hansen.
Lighting: Richard Williamson.
Sound: Lee Davies.
Costume: Jonathan Lipman.