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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Period of Adjustment
Almeida Theatre       Spring 2006

Early in Tennessee Williams' 1960 comedy comes this exchange - 'I'm afraid I married a stranger.' - 'Everybody does that.'

Out of that insight Eugene O'Neill might have written a tragedy, Alan Ayckbourn a biting satire, Neil Simon a TV sitcom pilot and even Williams in a different mood a painful study in loneliness.

But here Williams chose to give us a sweet and warm little comedy, fragilei n the extreme but just strong enough to carry a few small truths about love.

The play shows us two married couples facing their own periods of adjustment. One pair are newlyweds, an ex-soldier whose alternating bouts of macho swaggering and panicky tremors poorly disguise his sexual virginity and emotional insecurity, and a small-town girl whose blonde airhead facade keeps even her from recognising her core of maturity and good sense.

The other couple are the groom's army buddy, who married a plain woman for her money and hasn't quite realised that in the six years since then he has come to love her, and the wife who knows that less-than-perfect is quite enough for her.

They all bounce off each other, some blustering, some weeping. They take turns opening up to strangers more than to those closest to them, and understanding the others' situations better than their own.

And by the end things are a bit - just a bit - better than they were at the start.

It is all so sweet and quietly funny and, well, nice that only the occasional flight of poetry and the inclusion of some fairly overt symbolism (e.g. a house built over a cavern, slowly sinking and splitting apart) remind you that it is by Tennessee Williams.

Lisa Dillon shines as the bride, letting us see that there's more to this country gal even when she's dissolved in farcical tears, while Jared Harris gives the marriage veteran a modest amiability and a bit of surprise at his own good counsel.

Benedict Cumberbatch as the reluctant groom and Sandy McDade as the contented wife have less to do, but provide solid support, not least by sustaining the warmly romantic tone.

Howard Davies directs with full sensitivity to the play's fragility. And, for once, a salute to the dialect coach, Joan Washington. British actors are notoriously poor at American sounds, but although they're using some comic southern accents - the sort that can turn 'daddy' into a three-syllable word - they're all spot-on.

Gerald Berkowitz
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Review of Period Of Adjustment - Almeida Theatre 2006
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