This review was originally written for The Reviews Hub: http://www.thereviewshub.com
For 20 years from the mid-1940s,Tennessee Williams could do little wrong, writing a string of critical and commercial successes. However, this revival is of a play written in 1979 and it shows us a writer who had passed his peak, looking back to his roots in America’s South of the 1930s to find fresh inspiration.
On a hot and humid evening, Notting Hill can pass for St Louis and the shabby art-deco Coronet Cinema, current home for the Print Room, evokes the era of the play’s setting perfectly. Fotini Dimou’s well thought out set adds to the illusion, dividing the stage into kitchen, living room and bedroom, with a large rotating fan hanging from above.
Liberalisation of social attitudes and loosening of censorship, beginning in the 1960s, did Williams few favours. Much of the lyricism in his most famous works had come from suggesting the forbidden and alluding indirectly to taboos. Once the previously unmentionable had become part of everyday conversation, Williams’ writing lost some of its power. By 1979, the themes of female sexuality that occur in this play may have been mildly shocking, but only mildly and not at all so in the modern day. What this all-female piece shows us not to have diminished is Williams’ extraordinary gift for writing strong women characters.
Laura Rogers’ Dorothea (Dotty) is a dreamy-eyed optimist, a school teacher who is infatuated with her principal and convinced that he will reciprocate her feelings. Her rigorous exercise regime to keep her figure shapely is interrupted only to argue with her roommate, the frumpy Bodey (Debbie Chazen) and to take swigs from a bottle of sherry. Bodey has plans to marry Dotty off to her cigar-smoking, beer-swilling twin brother and is preparing a Sunday picnic for the three at the Creve Coeur amusement park by the side of a nearby lake, but Dotty is waiting for a telephone call from her beau that it seems will never come.
Sparks fly with the arrival of Dotty’s school teacher colleague, the snooty Helena (Hermione Gulliford) who has persuaded Dotty to move in with her at an apartment block in a smarter part of town. The scene is set for a battle royal between Bodey and Helena with Dotty as the prize, but Dotty sees things differently. Williams’ comic confrontational dialogue has a sharp edge and he throws in more comedy in the shape of neighbour Miss Gluck (Julia Watson), suffering a severe stomach upset and so depressed following the loss of her mother that she cannot even make herself a cup of coffee.
Director Michael Oakley’s production is acted delightfully, bringing out the humour and the pathos of four women all yearning for the unattainable and all blighted by near-desperate loneliness. Serious themes underpin the comedy, yet, for all the play’s insights, it somehow lacks the weight of the writer’s greatest works. It is Williams-lite, but entertaining nonetheless.
Performance date: 15 September 2016