One Arm**** (Southwark Playhouse)

Posted: June 14, 2015 in Theatre


The discovery of an unperformed script by Tennessee Williams is the theatrical equivalent to finding a Van Gogh in the attic and, for that reason alone, this production is richly intriguing. One Arm, which tells of Ollie, a young Boxing champion who loses a limb in a car accident and then descends into a life of degradation, first appeared as a short story in 1948 when, as it dealt explicitly with prostitution, homosexuality and pornography, dramatisation for stage or screen would have been unthinkable. However, 20 years later, Midnight Cowboy had won the Best Picture Oscar and Williams attempted, sadly in vain, to get his screenplay made into a film. Being a narrative driven piece, Williams probably saw it as more suitable for cinema than theatre and it is a brave move by Moises Kaufman to bring it to the stage. In opening his play with a clear statement that what is to follow was intended to be a film, Kaufman is perhaps acknowledging its unsuitability for theatre, but he does a good job in overcoming the difficulties and director Josh Seymour gives the play a thoroughly modern production – studio space, thrust stage and minimal furnishings with full-length mirrors the only permanent feature. All the Williams trademark images of beauty, brutality and eroticism are in the mix, but here he deals openly with themes that could only be alluded to in his major works, leaving us to wonder what he might have written had he lived in another era. The story is told in flashback with Ollie in a cell on Death Row, recalling how he got there and making the discovery that he meant more as a human being to the “tricks” that he encountered than any of them ever meant to him or he ever meant to himself. Williams’ vision of the values of self respect and respect for humanity is at the play’s heart and Ollie’s belated attempts at reparation become profoundly moving. The biggest flaw is Williams’ failure to make Ollie more sympathetic and thereby explain why he is held in high regard, but the young actor Tom Varey makes valiant efforts to conquer these shortcomings, giving a commanding performance. Peter Hannah, Joe Jameson, Georgia Kerr and James Tucker are also excellent, sharing all the other roles. The initial attraction to this production is its curiosity value, but One Arm is engrossing and haunting and what emerges is a significant work in its own right.

Performance date: 13 June 2015

  1. jaybs3 says:

    Tom Varey is a most talented young actor and this role really shows what he has to offer!

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