Belles (Something Unspoken and And Tell Sad Stories Of The Deaths Of
King's Head Theatre Summer 2019
This programme of two one-act
plays written by Tennessee Williams during his most productive period of
the mid-1950s sensitively captures and communicates a side of Williams too
often overlooked by critical judgements.
Williams once wrote 'We are
all of us sentenced to a life of solitary confinements in our own skins,'
announcing that his true subject was loneliness and the hunger for
connection with others. These two short plays touchingly show the
desperation, the anguish of failure and the need to carry on regardless.
In Something Unspoken a
well-off Southern woman is moved by her fading social standing to reach
out to her long-serving secretary-companion for emotional support and a
reassurance that there is something more than an employer-employee
relationship between them. But shyness, social constraints and the class
gap make open communication impossible.
It is a play built entirely
on subtext, with almost every single line from either woman a coded
allusion to something unspoken or unspeakable.
The temptation for director
Jamie Armitage and actors Annabel Leventon and Fiona Marr to spell it all
out must have been great. But it is very much to their credit that they
What the characters cannot
say might be romantic and might even be sexual, but to make it only that
would be to reduce the play.
By respecting the characters'
need to leave things unsaid, Leventon and Marr make the play about the
greater and more pervasive loneliness that is Williams's theme. And as a
result it is as deeply moving as he could have wished.
If Something Unspoken is
about communication failure through inability to express feelings openly,
And Tell Sad Stories Of The Deaths Of Queens is about two characters who
declare themselves openly but can't hear what the other is saying.
Ageing (that is to say, in
his mid-30s) homosexual Candy brings home straight sailor Karl.
Candy spells out as clearly
as he can that while he would not be adverse to sex, what he really wants
is a live-in friend, protege and sort-of-husband to assuage his
loneliness. And Karl makes it clear that he is totally straight and would
as happily beat up a queer as take his money.
But such is the neediness of
both, Williams shows us, that they are half drawn in to Candy's fantasy.
If the challenge for the
actors in Something Unspoken was to sustain ambiguity, here the task
facing Luke Mullins (Candy) and George Fletcher (Karl) is to say
everything openly but not hear what the other is saying.
Again sensitively directed by
Jamie Armitage, both actors create and sustain our sympathy for both by
letting us see and believe the hunger for connection that makes them deny
the impossibility of connecting.
Incidental elements in some
of Tennessee Williams's best-known plays led to an unwarranted reputation
for writing about the violent and grotesque, when his real subject was
always the quieter and more universal loneliness of life.
This beautifully understated staging of two short but emotionally complex plays captures the essence of Williams's vision in a thoroughly satisfying evening.
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Review - Southern Belles - King's Head Theatre 2019