The Theatreguide.London Review
wrote this play for a university course he took in 1937. It was never
produced in his lifetime and only rediscovered in his papers in 1996.
This production from the Royal and Derngate Northampton is its first
staging outside the USA.
is clearly a beginning writer's play, but a beginning writer of obvious
I to encounter
it without knowing the author, I might say (as I frequently have
occasion to) 'This is not a wholly successful play, but there is a real
writer here. It's worth seeing not only for its own merits but so that
when his next play, or the one after that, is a total success, you can
say that you spotted him at the start.'
since the play after that was The Glass Menagerie, I would have been
Storm is a
story of young love among the status-obsessed upper middle classes of
the American South. Passionate and forgivably flighty deb Heavenly
Critchfield loves Dick Miles, who is not exactly from the wrong side of
the tracks, but is sufficiently without a future (He dreams of travel
and of working with his hands) for her mother to push her rather toward
much-better-catch Arthur Shannon.
Arthur loves Heavenly, but is paralysed not only by his shyness but by
adolescent memories of being an outsider snubbed and teased by Heavenly
and the other popular kids. (A fourth character, a shy librarian in
love with Arthur, is underwritten and all-but-forgotten by the
playwright until he needs her for a melodramatic finish.)
with Dick while her monstrously comic mother pushes her at Arthur,
Arthur dithers and wavers between old hatreds and new desires. And
while they're trying to figure out what to do with their lives, life
happens to them, making decisions they can't make for themselves.
that melodramatic ending, the inability to integrate the librarian
better or to develop some obvious symbols (like a rising river
threatening to flood the town) and a couple of clumsily written scenes
(like one between Heavenly and her mother) betray the fledgling
playwright at work.
the other hand,
Dick's fumbling expression of his wanderlust, Arthur's vacillating
shyness and Heavenly's good heart are all convincingly and touchingly
communicated, making us believe in and care for these young people.
scenes like the
one in which Heavenly tries desperately to make small talk on a date
with Arthur, only to dig herself ever deeper into insipid silliness, or
one in which her mother tries desperately to cover an embarrassing
moment with chatter, are Southern Gothic comedy of the highest order.
Williams fans there is the added excitement of seeing hints of themes,
techniques and characters to come. Heavenly is a portrait of what
Amanda Wingfield or Blanche DuBois might have been when younger,
reminding us that those characters were soured by life, not sour from
of later weak and passive men like Brick Pollitt and Chance Wayne, and
while it might be a stretch to see Stanley Kowalski in Dick (he also
has elements of the Gentleman Caller), there is a first hint of
Williams' suspicion that raw, muscular commonness might be what the
Southern gene pool most needed.
Sansom's sensitive direction Liz White lets us see the inherent
healthiness and goodness beneath the inherited cultural baggage
Heavenly must carry, while Michael Malarkey takes Arthur through a wide
range of emotions, sometimes within a single scene, while keeping a
continuity and sympathy to the character.
brings Dick fully alive in a couple of brief scenes, while Jacqueline
King creates a memorable and delightful comic mother.
a footnote: the
same company is also performing in Eugene O'Neill's Beyond The Horizon,
giving us an experience the National Theatre itself has deprived us of
for too long - the pleasure of seeing the same actors in complementary
or contrasting roles on consecutive evenings.
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Review - Spring Storm - National Theatre 2010