Menier Chocolate Factory Theatre Summer 2019
One of his lesser-known
plays, Orpheus Descending is Tennessee Williams at his most intensely
lush, sensual and symbolic. It is not just a play full of over-the-top
emotions, it is a play whose subject is over-the-top emotions.
And this too-cool and
distanced production does too little to capture and communicate that
We are in the American
Siouth, of course, where the women of a small town are set aflutter by the
arrival of a handsome young travelling musician.
Everyone from the holy
churchlady through the town Bad Girl, and all the twittering gossips in
between, reacts – with the temporary exception of the embittered wife of a
dying old man.
But of course, as anyone who
has ever seen a play or read a book can see from the start, she and the
newcomer are bound to be drawn to each other.
The tension of the play
arises from seeing how long they can hold out against the inevitable and
then what giving in will do to them.
But while we see all this and
understand where it's going in Tamara Harvey's production, we feel far too
little of it.
True, Tennessee Williams
didn't help, by drawing the play in such broad strokes that the characters
sometimes approach self-parody. But the task of a director and actors is
to make the people and situations real while still capturing some hint of
the intense sexuality and operatic passions that are the playwright's
The first necessity would be
some sexual chemistry between Seth Numrich's musician and Hattie Morahan's
housewife, but there is none.
Each actor conveys important
other aspects of their characters – his desire to be more than just a
stud, her simmering rage over past injustices. But between the two of them
onstage there are no sparks, no sense of either being overwhelmed by love
The same coolness extends to
the background. Williams obviously wants a claustrophobic hothouse
atmosphere, with the other townswomen constantly surrounding, intruding
and creating a pressure cooker of trapped emotions. But the director just
lets them come and go as comic interludes not really affecting the play's
Even Carol Royle as the
artist with religious visions and Jemima Rooper as a priestess of hedonism
are left to play their scenes in emotional vacuums.
This is the play in which a
character speaks the line that Tennessee Williams would frequently quote
as his own view: 'We are all of us sentenced to a life of solitary
confinements in our own skins.'
Orpheus Descending is about the glory and the danger of those occasions when we do reach out and make contact. And a production that does not make us feel the earthquake of that contact does not do justice to the play.
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Review - Orpheus Descending - Menier Chocolate Factory Theatre 2019