Tag Archives: Tennessee Williams

Review Cat On a Hot Tin Roof, Theatr Clwyd by Richard Evans

Tennessee Williams

Co-production by Liverpool Everyman & Playhouse, Curve Leicester and English Touring Theatre

Directed by Anthony Almeida

 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

What is it like to be living a lie and then to be confronted by the truth?  This is the theme that runs through Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.  We know this is a classic text so it is hard for a new production to live up to that legacy.  The spectre of Paul Newman and Elizabeth Taylor from the film adaptation looms large in the memory and that medium can introduce more phase and change into the setting than is possible on the stage.

This is a difficult play to get right.  It’s reputation demands vital theatre, yet the script is carried by dialogue much more than action such that it is the communication of character that will hold the attention.  Does this production succeed?  Indeed it does.  The three strongest characters, Maggie, played by Siena Kelly, Brick, by Oliver Johnstone and Big Daddy, by Peter Forbes were superb and were ably supported by the cast.  Maggie in particular was beguiling, passionate and determined while Brick suitably downtrodden before being awoken by confrontation from his stupor.  Big Daddy was the epitome of a controlling, self-made man from the Deep South with all the patriarchal values you would expect. 

Sienna Kelly as Maggie

The action takes place in a bedroom in a household that is straining to cope with the tensions that lie within.  Key to this is how people respond to the fact that Big Daddy is dying and what will become of his legacy.  Of course there are machinations behind the scenes, but the problem is the alcoholism demonstrated by the favoured son, Brick.  Why does he drink?  It is clear he is a spoiled, indulged child who has had his sports career wrecked through injury and suffered the loss of a profound childhood friend through suicide.  Now he is now running from himself out of a sense of disgust but senses that a tissue of lies pervades all his relationships.  Something has to change. The play becomes an exercise in how to uncover truth after a whole panoply of lies has been built.  The question arises, just how much truth can we take without it breaking the family apart? 

Oliver Johnstone as Brick

The set was simple and effective.  I found the curtain a distraction while it was drawn, but it was used to excellent effect when Brick was wrapped in it to symbolize being suffocated by the expectations of people around him.  The movement of the cast in and out of scene while dialogue was taking place alluded to the fact that ‘walls have ears’, again, nicely done. 

Peter Forbes as Big Daddy, Oliver Johnstone as Brick

The cast did an excellent job of portraying a suffocating, stifling atmosphere.  All that was missing were a few crickets, mosquitos and the oppressive heat from the Deep South.  The play gripped the attention and held the audience in thrall.  The characters were well developed, complex personas who all had their flaws and thus mirrored the human condition.  No easy answers were given here, people had to make the best from what they had. This may sound uncomfortable, rather it made for riveting theatre.  This was an intense, yet thoroughly enjoyable evening. 

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

 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
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.

Click here for more info


Review The Glass Menagerie Theatr Pena by Kaitlin Wray

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.