The West End Whingers’ first law of theatrical enjoyment states that the level of engagement with a play is directly proportional to one’s proximity to the stage. This law does not apply to musicals, shows involving audience participation or – in Phil’s case – anything with Simon Russell-Beale in it.
But as a general rule of thumb, experiencing good writing and performances close up can transform an evening out into an evening spent in other people’s lives.
Here you will feel as though you are sitting in the corners of the rooms where the dramas unfold. Uncomfortably so, at times: Andrew – who undertook this assignment solo – was occasionally beset by the fear that one of the characters would suddenly notice him sitting four feet away and exclaim, “Oh ma laud there’s a gennemun in ma paarlour.”
And such is the truth in the writing and the performances, you will believe just about everything you see and hear.
In the first play, Mr Paradise, a forgotten poet in the French quarter of New Orleans receives a visit from a society girl who has discovered a volume of his poetry in an antique shop where it was being used to steady a wobbly table. Her aim is to bring his work to the attention of the world but Mr Paradise is not ready to be resurrected. It’s a fantastically balanced two-hander in which two worlds meet for a moment. Jennifer Higham plays the twittering girl with resolute honesty and although Ted van Griethuysen has only a handful of lines, his silence speaks volumes and fills the stage. And it’s only 10 minutes long.
Summer by the Lake is a classic Williams vignette of self-absorption played out between a mother suffering with “nerves” and her disturbed son in which Diana Kent gives a truly first-rate performance.
The last in the triptych is described as “Tennessee Williams’s most provocative and openly gay play.” And Tell Sad Stories of the Deaths of Queens is the story of New Orleans gay transvestite Candy Delaney and her love for a rough merchant sailor. Director Anna Ledwich skilfully steers a course through both comedy and the sadness and Edward Hughes (who really is going to have to change his name if he ever wants to be found on Google) is utterly convincing and engaging as Candy.
So, some top notch performances, great direction and – of course – the words of a poetic genius. As writer-blogger Lance Woodman put it, “that Tennessee Williams could write.”
Footnote: The story behind this production is interesting too. Check out this article from the Telegraph.
(Note from Phil to Andrew: Did you really write this yourself? It doesn’t sound like you. Truth? Poetry? Are you going soft or just trying to wind me up? If so, it isn’t clever and it isn’t funny and nobody is the slightest bit impressed. You are not to go and see anything on your own again without my say-so.)
Update: You can read Phil’s opinion here.