A review by Pauline Flannery for EXTRA! EXTRA!

 

 

 

 

 

Vieux Carre

 

 


Samantha Coughlan (Jane) Paul Standell (Tye) in Vieux Carre at King's Head Theatre
Photo by Tim Medley

 

by Tennessee Williams

 

Directed by Robert Chevara

 

 

Charing Cross Theatre

 

 

14 August - 1 September 2012

 

 

In 1938, Walter Bergeron, head barman at the Monteleone Hotel, New Orleans, invented the Vieux Carre Cocktail: rye whiskey, cognac, sweet vermouth with 1 teaspoon of Benedictine, 2 dashes of Peychaud's Bitters and 2 dashes of Angostura Bitters. In the same year, Tennessee Williams began his own theatrical cocktail, finishing nearly forty years later post-war, post-McCarthy, post-Woodstock, in 1977.

Vieux Carre is a smorgasbord of Williams' plays and themes, and like the ghosts at its beginning, recalls other characters - Blanche and Stanley from A Streetcar Named Desire, and Amanda Wingfield in The Glass Menagerie . While thematic threads dealing with consumption, disillusionment, sexual ambivalence point to a profound human loneliness and fragility, which proliferate his plays and short stories.

A young, un-named writer from St Louis arrives at a New Orleans' boarding house, in the French Quarter, the Vieux Carre of the title. It is run by the delusional and manipulative Mrs Wire, 'who is all three furies at once.' She tries to control her boarders' comings and goings: New Rochelle society girl, Jane, 'a yellow cab girl with limousine expectations, and her strip-joint, bouncer boy-friend Tye, the tubercular, predatory Nightingale, mis-fit and painter, long suffering but grounded 'nursey', two ladies who hail from Gone With the Wind who starve themselves, and the new-comer, closely associated with Williams himself, who sees and records everything.

The production, directed by Robert Chevara, has transferred from the King's Head. Yet the exposed walls of the Charing Cross Theatre offer a breadth and context to the dilapidated boarding house at 722 Toulouse Street. Designer Nicolai Hart Hansen takes full advantage of this as beds and single lighting states (Seth Rook Williams) locate characters in an intense, isolated environment. All is enhanced by a minimalist soundscore (Lee Davis) punctuated by crickets and the sound of typewriter keys.

Vieux Carre feels daring because of its direct language and its frank dealings with homosexuality and suicide. Culturally, Tennessee Williams belongs to a tragic poetical world of his plays: Suddenly Last Summer with Katharine Hepburn, A Streetcar Named Desire with Vivien Leigh and Marlon Brando - a period spanning the fifties in which the best out-smarted McCarthyism. So it is a jolt to trip over a direct, textual F*** with other reference to 'no decent gay life at all.' The play's forty year gestation spanning censorship and de-regulation explains this. Yet it also chronicles Williams' nadir, as the focus shifts in the second half to the booze-drug filled relationship between Tye and Jane.

Chevara and his cast bring off the multiple narration, split scenes and jumps in time. Yet the action, like an elaborate game of snakes and ladders, is more of a slow inward burn. Jack McMillian as Sky and Paul Standell as Tye understand this subterranean atmosphere, instinctively. Williams 'writes violence by twilight.' David Whitworth, as the consumptive Nightingale, between sharp-shooting bon mots and sinister sandman, is equally authoritative. While Tom Ross-Williams, whose moniker is eerily similar to the great man's, shows the gauche writer's callow awareness.

The life-scripts in this semi-autobiographical memory play resonated with the other Tom (Tennessee ) Williams throughout his working life. This production brings him sharply back into focus: striking a deep Southern chord with his admirers, while introducing a new generation to his theatrical poetry that is hard to beat: 'When I blow out that candle, I want to be alone………'

 

Charing Cross Theatre
(formerly New Players Theatre)
The Arches
Villiers Street
London
WC2N 6NL
Wednesday – Saturday, until 1 September at 7.30pm
Tickets £16 - £19.50
Box Office 0207 907 7075 booking fee applies
www.charingcrosstheatre.co.uk booking fee applies
In person no booking fee

 

 

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