Tennessee Williams’ two-hander has returned to The Hampstead Theatre, where it originally debuted in 1967, for a revival directed by Sam Yates.
We’ll start by saying that The Two Character Play is a well put-together piece of theatre. Tennessee Williams’ complicated play-within-a-play, which follows the lives of brother and sister duo Felice (Zubin Varla) and Clare (Kate O’Flynn), is an impressive achievement. The staging looks the part, there’s some clever use of tech throughout and we enjoyed the musical elements. Having said all that, this is one of Tennessee Williams’ more experimental works and this revival is a challenging and complex piece of theatre which left us feeling pretty uncomfortable at times.
The premise is that the brother and sister actor duo have been on the road far too long, and their troupe have abandoned them just before a show is due to start. With only each other and limited resources at their disposal, they put on the one show in their repertoire that they can perform without the rest of their ensemble – the titular Two Character Play. Based largely on the life of Williams’ sister Rose, who spent much of her time confined in a psychiatric institution, the play heavily focuses on issues surrounding mental health. Aside from a few witty quips in the text, the tone is pretty bleak throughout and there are a handful of scenes which are difficult to watch.
Over the course of two hours we watch as the brother and sister lose their grip on real life, and start to blur the lines between reality and performance. At times it’s difficult to tell what’s actually happening on the stage and where Felice and Clare have slipped out of character – there are so many parallels between the content of the play and the lives that they’re living. It never quite goes in the expected direction – at both the interval and the play’s conclusion we were a bit baffled as to what had just happened and what might be in store next for our two characters.
There are plenty of positives about this play – there are occasional moments of witty dialogue, a couple of sweet songs, a nicely-choreographed dance moment and the production values are very strong. A horror-influenced dream sequence towards the end lands particularly effectively, and there’s some smart use of cameras and lighting effects throughout. Unfortunately, the play itself, and its characters, are difficult to like. What we’re left with is a technically good piece of theatre, but the appeal is likely to be pretty niche.
GAY TIMES gives The Two Character Play – 3/5
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