Tag Archives: Tennessee Williams

Review, Orpheus Descending, A Theatr Clwyd/Menier Chocolate Factory Co-production by Gareth Williams

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

The set design may be far more sedate than in her last production, Home, I’m Darling. But the cast assembled by director Tamara Harvey for her latest offering Orpheus Descending spark off one another with electrifying chemistry. One wonders what she does during the rehearsal process that nurtures such strong unity among cast members, and produces such creative energy that then flows out on stage, with amazing results.

Tamara Harvey

In this adaptation of one of Tennessee Williams’ lesser-known plays, Lady and Val might be advertised as the two main characters. But it is very much an ensemble piece, with the most absorbing scenes being those in which a whole host of players feature. Spread across the stage, the dialogue zips from one to another, bouncing around like an entertaining ball game. The script is so sharp and punchy. And the dialect coaching given by Penny Dyer and Nick Trumble only enhances it further. It makes for a very immersive play – the protrusion of the stage to the front row, and the use of the aisles either side of the auditorium, intensifying this experience.

Not to say that there aren’t some amazing individual performances however. Laura Jane Matthewson brings such a delightful humour to her character Dolly Hamma that her mere presence on stage brought a smile to my face. Seth Numrich’s turn as traveller and musician Val is full of charisma. His guitar skills might not be up there with Val’s hero Lead Belly, but Numrich nevertheless has the unenviable ability to own a stage without ever overshadowing his fellow cast members. He is an excellent match for Hattie Morahan, playing opposite him as Lady. Morahan brings a powerful sense of independence to the role that is both frustrated by her marriage to Jabe (Mark Meadows) and teased out through her developing romance with Val. Morahan’s performance grows steadily throughout the play, becoming one that, in many ways, defines the second half.

I reserve special praise for Jemima Rooper, who is nothing short of excellent as Carol Cutrere. The rebel, the rouser; the misfit and the mistress in this portrait of small-town life, Cutrere is such a fascinating character. She is made so by Rooper, who grants her such a vast expanse of unashamed openness that I could only wonder at how Rooper manages to retain a slight air of mystery about her. Yet she does, in spite of her character’s exhibitionism; there remains a hidden depth to her even as her vulnerability and brokenness are so apparent. If Morahan is the star of the second half, Rooper is most certainly the star of the first.

Tamara Harvey’s production makes you wonder why Orpheus Descending has not been produced more regularly. It is perhaps because Harvey has the ability to nurture, and the skill to mine, the best of performances from her actors. In other hands, perhaps it would not be as gripping or as interesting. But it is here, largely because of the evident chemistry that exists between the cast members. One can only credit Harvey with developing that. And it is this which draws out the extra quality that sees such great individual performances, which combine beautifully to create such an excellent overall production.

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Review The Glass Menagerie Theatr Pena by Kaitlin Wray

 

gareth_0005_THE-GLASS-MENAGERIE

The Glass Menagerie is a play that focuses on memories, devastation and hope. Narrated by the bread earner son, Tom Wingfield, played by Rhys Meredith he states,

“The play is a memory. Being a memory play, it is dimly lighted, it is sentimental, it is not realistic.” This was evidently shown through the use of aesthetics including the lighting design and through the use of music. “In memory everything seems to happen to music”

The only realism in this play is when a gentleman caller appears in the final scene.
Erica Eirian, director of Theatre Pena clearly shows that there is something absurd about this family, their conversations with each other appear to be off. Even though the cast showed their delusions, I believe they could have expanded the concept of the two worlds of the play. The first world is that of a family who are completely trapped between the four walls of the house unable to get out. The second world is that of real life and normality. The gentleman caller, played by Gareth Pierce represents real life coming into the house. This second world is evidently shown by Gareth’s naturalistic acting and the way he made the audience feel more at ease when watching this, henceforth making them feel hope towards the characters.

What would have made this show even more enjoyable and original is if they created the first world with even more un-naturalistic theatre techniques to really show how messed up the family are. I would have liked to have seen how horrible it was to be in that house, the mother, tortured by her husbands smiling picture, the fact she is growing old and the uncertainty that her children will ever be happy. Tom, the son, feeling so trapped due to being pressured to earn money for his family but all he wants to do is to escape. Then Laura, the most delusional character out of all of them. Laura has basically given up on all human interaction because she believes she is unworthy due to her ‘minor defect’. She has created a whole world with her glass menagerie figures which appears to be her only happiness. I believe all of these characters could have shown this depth to a higher extent, demonstrating a slight insanity. I wanted to feel uncomfortable watching this performance as if I was intruding on their family life.

The way the cast performed could have been exactly how the director, Erica Eirian wanted. However I feel it didn’t fully show how horrible it was to live there. Rosamund Shelley’s playing, Amanda Wingfield portrayed a convincingly annoying mum, however there needed to be more demonstrations of the mental state of her character. Personally the character of Amanda Wingfield reminded me of an older version of Blanche Dubois (A Streetcar Named Desire) if she was to have children. The fights between the son and the mother remained at one level throughout the play with either just a constant shout or sarcasm. To create this world the whole first act should have been filled with tension and the longing for each character to want happiness but knowing that it’s unattainable for them. Therefore when the gentleman caller comes it is a breath of fresh air and for a moment, hope.

Act two is where we see the gentleman caller played by Gareth Pierce, trying to get Laura Wingfield, played by Eiry Thomas, mentally out of her own world into the real one by persuading her that she is pretty and bright. Eiry Thomas highlights how incapable she is at human interaction convincingly, from her awkward dancing to the way she overly admires Jim, the gentleman caller. This section was a lovely moment in the show and it was the first time I felt drawn in to the characters, longing for some hope in their lives. The lighting, created by Kay Haynes enhanced this scene by using dimly lit lights and the use of candle work and shadows, overall it was a scene perfectly executed.

In terms of the music, composed by Peter Knight I understand that music was of uttermost importance within the show and Tennessee Williams highlights in his play what music he wanted and where he wanted it. If allowed, I believe the music should have had slight changes throughout the play, for example as the play goes on the musical motif could have developed to making the play seem gradually darker. For example a diminished representation of the motif would have escalated the absurdity within the play.

Overall Theatr Pena’s production showed in areas the two worlds of the play and it did get across the devastation between the family due to each actor showing the pain of their character. However there was something missing from this play, it lacked overall depth and an understanding of the characters and their social background within this production.