Tennessee williams

If you see this show you’ll want to see it again – directed properly: The Glass Menagerie, at the Duke of York’s Theatre, reviewed

The Glass Menagerie directed by Jeremy Herrin is a bit of an eyeball-scrambler. The action takes place on a huge black platform flanked by 1930s antiques: a typewriter, a broken piano, a reel-to-reel tape recorder and a smattering of Anglepoise lamps. This cryptic setting suggests that the play is being developed in a Museum of the Great Depression, and the show we are seeing is the latest rehearsal. It’s not clear what purpose is served by this fiddly imposture. And although the act of sabotage doesn’t quite destroy the show, it’s touch and go during the opening 20 minutes. Herrin has shared the role of Tom between two actors. Tom

One for hardcore Tennessee Williams fans only: The Two Character Play reviewed

It can be difficult to remember that Tennessee Williams, the great songster of the Deep South during the 1950s, was still churning out plays when he died in 1983. In the 1960s he was past his peak and he began to experiment with form, perhaps hoping to compete with fashionable youngsters like Tom Stoppard and Harold Pinter. Hampstead Theatre staged the world première of his absurdist melodrama The Two Character Play in 1967. And now, a mere 54 years later (an interlude that hints at its merits as a crowd-pleaser), the show has returned to its cradle. Sam Yates directs. This is an obscure and sometimes baffling script that features

Classics of the future

Games for Lovers feels like a smart, sexy TV comedy. Martha is still in love with her old flame Logan whose new girlfriend has a huge libido which he can’t hope to satisfy. When Martha starts flat-hunting she answers an advert coincidentally posted by Logan’s best friend, Darren. Thus, perhaps too neatly, the two warring couples are set up for a massive falling out. Darren (played brilliantly by Billy Postlethwaite, with shades of Kevin Kline) is the beating heart of this story. He’s a former nerd who works as a City analyst and uses tricks learned from the internet to bed women. But all his techniques backfire and he becomes

Animal magic | 25 July 2019

Equus is a psychological thriller from 1973 which opens with a revolting discovery. An unbalanced stable-lad, Alan, spends his evenings taking the horses out for an illicit gallop. Meanwhile, he’s busy seducing a hot young cowgirl at the farm but his awakening sexuality confuses him. The girl’s erotic nature brings out his closeted gay side and he tries to purge his homosexuality by stabbing six stallions in the eyes. A mopy shrink (Zubin Varla) takes on Alan’s case but finds himself investigating his own troubled psyche instead. Some of the details in Peter Shaffer’s play have dated badly. Alan’s parents are caricatures of nauseating suburban inanity. The mum is a

What’s the big idea?

Summer and Smoke by Tennessee Williams dates from the late 1940s. He hadn’t quite reached the peaks of sentimental delicacy he found in his golden period but he was getting there. As a lesser-known curiosity, the script deserves a production that explains itself openly and plainly. Rebecca Frecknall has directed a beautiful and sometimes bizarre-looking show which is beset by ‘great ideas’. What a great idea to encircle the stage with upright pianos that the actors can cavort on, and whose exposed innards can twinkle with atmospheric lights at poignant moments. The pianos are an ingenious and handsome solo effort but they serve the designer’s ends and not the play’s.

Timeless and dated

Tennessee Williams’s breakthrough play is a portrait of his dysfunctional family. A young writer, Tom (Williams’s real name), lives with his effusively domineering mother and his painfully coy sister, Laura. Mother, once a famous beauty, gets Tom to find an eligible chap for Laura. Tough call. Beautiful Laura has a deformed ankle and she’s just flunked out of secretarial college after suffering the embarrassment of vomiting over her type-writer. She now pines away at home forming sterile friendships with a colony of animal statuettes lodged in a glass case. This set-up has the delicious simplicity of a comedy sketch. The conflict between the unstoppable mother and the self-effacing daughter promises

Paintbrushes at the ready

When the old curmudgeon Edgar Degas died in 1917, a stunning trove of works by Edouard Manet — eight paintings, 14 drawings and 60 prints — was discovered in his studio. There, too, was a portrait of Manet and his wife Suzanne, painted by Degas 50 years earlier. But its right-hand third was missing — which included half of Suzanne’s body and all of the piano she was playing. For some reason, Manet had put a knife through the canvas and sent Degas packing with what remained. The duo’s relationship is one of four ‘friendly rivalries’ considered by the Boston Globe art critic, Sebastian Smee, in his new book (Matisse

Pride and prejudice

Paul Minx ventures boldly into Tennessee Williams country with The Long Road South. It’s 1965 and the Price family are idling about at home in Indiana. In mid-August the air is heavy with frustrated sexuality. Carol Ann Price (Imogen Stubbs) is a kindly, buxom waster slithering decorously into alcoholic dereliction. Her daughter, Ivy, is a perky little menace who cavorts about the lawn in a skimpy bikini trying to elicit male attention. Jake, the patriarch, is a charmless redneck with anger problems and a secret backlog of unpaid debt. Waiting on these white-trash parasites are two black servants, Andre and Grace, who are smart, industrious, even-tempered and limitlessly patient. Andre

Low life | 19 November 2015

The car: a ’06 rosso red Seat Ibiza 1.9 TDI Sport, bought three weeks ago from a man who had bought the car from the Stig’s mum. If the Stig, with all his motoring experience, had carefully chosen the car for his dear old mum, it was an inspired choice. For an inexpensive, inoffensive-looking little two-door saloon, it is wonderfully quick. The route: from the north-western French port of Roscoff, in the socialist department of Finistère, down to Brignoles, the far-right, pied-noir capital of Provence; a 1,300-kilometre diagonal from the top left of the country to the bottom right. The in-car entertainment: ten CDs of smoky-voiced US southern-belle actress Elizabeth

The Armour at Langham Hotel reviewed: three new playlets that never get going

One of last year’s unexpected treasures was a novelty show by Defibrillator that took three neglected Tennessee Williams plays, all set in hotel rooms, and staged them in suites at a five-star dosshouse in central London. The Langham Hotel, an antique hulk of marble and glass overlooking Broadcasting House, is justly proud of its raffish literary history. Arthur Conan Doyle once met Oscar Wilde there for a chinwag and a cup of tea and by the time the bill arrived they’d conceived a fictional detective named Holmes. The Langham’s management is keen for Defibrillator to repeat last year’s success but how? Search the archive for more plays set in hotels?

Brave Tommies and dim earls — Oh What a Lovely War is hoity-toity reductionism

Here it is. Fifty years late. Oh What a Lovely War was originally staged at Stratford East in 1964. It returns to its birthplace to cash in on this year’s anniversary of the Great War. Sorry, I meant commemorate. The title is so familiar that one overlooks its callow, misanthropic glibness. Does anyone think war ‘lovely’? The show’s narrator sprints through the causes of the conflict, and its chief battles, without offering any historical insight. Music-hall songs and comedy stereotypes trundle past on a conveyor belt of laughter and slaughter. The show was inspired by angry dogmatist Joan Littlewood, who wanted to sock it to R.C. Sherriff for writing a

Tangier, by Josh Shoemake – review

This may sound a little orientalist, but Tangier has some claim to being the most foreign city in the world. Back in the day, its position at the northernmost tip of Africa was regarded as the edge of civilisation — more than that, as the edge of what was known, the edge of everything. Here were the Pillars of Hercules, which in addition to performing the important function of holding up the sky, were said to be engraved with the words ‘nec plus ultra’: beyond this, nothing. Since its foundation in the 5th century BC, the city has been variously controlled by the Carthaginians, the Phoenicians, the Romans, the Arabs,

A Trip to Echo Spring, by Olivia Laing – review

The boozer’s life is one of low self-esteem and squalid self-denial. It was memorably evoked by Charles Jackson in his 1944 novel The Lost Weekend; having hocked his typewriter for a quart of rye, the writer Don Birnam spends his lost weekend in a New York psychiatric ward, with a fractured skull. Where did he get that? The previous night’s drinking is remembered (if remembered at all) with bewilderment and guilt. Of course, the illusion of drink-fuelled happiness is familiar to most of us, even if the hangover seems a cruel price to pay. Olivia Laing, in her study of six alcoholic American writers, The Trip to Echo Spring (the

Theatre: James Baldwin’s The Amen Corner is dazzlingly funny. Kim Cattrall is a revelation in a monstrous role

Good and bad at the National. The Amen Corner by James Baldwin is a wryly observed comedy drama written for a studio theatre. It’s an excellent small play. The director Rufus Norris pumps it full of steroids and tries to turn it into a great American epic like Streetcar or The Crucible. His staging suggests the finale of a country-house opera festival. Costly baggage impedes the script’s sprightly flow. On-stage jazzmen snivel through trombones and hack at double basses. Preening choirs warble and sway. Spare actors hang out of windows trying to look cool and indolent. The running time reaches a Napoleonic 155 minutes. Megalomania infects the furniture too. Baldwin

Transatlantic traffic

There has been a lot of discussion recently, prompted by the start of President Obama’s second term, about the ‘Special Relationship’ between the United Kingdom and the United States. What seems to have been overlooked in the analysis of politics, economics and diplomatic relations is that the strongest and most culturally important link between the two countries is their shared passion for theatre. For all the razzle-dazzle of Broadway, the London of Elizabeth II remains, as it has since the rule of Elizabeth I, the world capital of the stage. Transferring from London to New York is a huge buzz for British actors, but it is a chance to sample