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One of the most prolific playwrights ever, Tennessee Williams wrote this play based on some of his experiences of living in New Orleans. The play has not been seen on any London stage in 34 years, and it's hard to see what the reason behind this has been. Williams’ plays are hard to beat when it comes to beautiful words and stunning scenery descriptions.
Set in New Orleans French Quarter, the play explores Williams’ experiences of his time in a boarding house, where he met a multitude of characters, all of whom bring their own, mostly tragic side to the stage. Although Williams did not actually put himself in the play, the character of ‘the writer’ can be seen as his depiction of himself. In the play, we see the writer struggling with his writing, homosexuality and a cataract.
Space for the stage is limited at the King’s Head theatre, but this allows for an intimate feeling between the cast and the audience. As the play deals with such deep emotions at points, this really allows the audience to connect with what they are seeing on stage, and at times can be very moving.
As for the company, all of the actors put on fantastic performances. Nancy Crane, who plays the manic landlady Mrs Wire, is outstanding, and gives a tremendous, often tragic portrayal of the landlady who is losing her mind. Her delivery is always on time, and for a play that mixes comedy and drama so much, this is something that is essential. David Whitworth is brilliant as the aging homosexual predatory artist who is suffering from tuberculosis and refuses to accept his illness. Again, his delivery is on cue everytime, and often has the audience in hysterics and clapping.
Most of the funniest scenes include the two elderly, anorexic women who live in the attic, Mary Maude and Miss Carrie, played by Anna Kirke and Hildegard Neil respectively. They offer relief from the comic tension, especially in the scene where Mrs Wire pours boiling hot water down a hole in the floor onto an orgy occurring under the floorboards; one of the stand- out moments of the play.
The younger characters in the play give equally great performances. Tom Ross- Williams, who plays the writer, gives a poignant performance, as he tries to brush off advances from Nightingale, and the delivery of his monologues are great. A very good- looking young man also. Tye, a strip club bouncer who is mostly drunk or half naked (we're not complaining) during the play, played by the hunky Paul Standell is the image of masculinity, strutting around topless, and at one point completely naked (yes, you see everything). His long- suffering lover Jane, played by Samantha Coughlan, gives the stand- out performance, you can really feel every emotion she is feeling, and the intimate space allows this to happen on many levels.
We highly recommend this play, just make sure if you are smaller in stature you get a seat near the front, as with the stage being so close to the front row, you do miss a lot the further back you are. Aside from this, the transitions between scenes are effortless, and it's clear the play has had good direction from Robert Chevara.
Vieux Carre is at the King’s Head theatre until 4 August. Tickets available here.
Words: Antony De Rienzo.