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
And this too-cool and
distanced production does too little
to capture and communicate that intensity.
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.
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
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
and understand where it's going in Tamara Harvey's production, we
feel far too little of it.
True, Tennessee Williams
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
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
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 or desire.
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 centre.
Even Carol Royle as the
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.
Receive alerts every time we post a new review
Review - Orpheus Descending - Menier Chocolate Factory Theatre 2019