For the first time in 30 years Tenessee Williams’ autobiographical play Vieux Carre is revived in The Kings Head Theatre. Written in 1977, this a relatively late play in Williams oeuvre, decades after his debut (A Glass Menagerie) and his better known works (A Street Car Named Desire, Cat on A Hot Tin Roof).
Williams said: “The theatre is a place where one has time for the problems of people to whom one would show the door if they came to one’s office for a job.” So like aforementioned Williams’ plays, Vieux Carre contains flawed characters who create their reality through unspoken truth and lies. A rich play and beautifully brought to life in this production directed by Robert Chevara. Somewhere the 1930s, in a boarding house in the French Quarters of New Orleans a young writer, Tom Ross-Williams, is down on his luck. Ross-Williams skilfully portrays the growing pains of the young writer, coming to terms with being gay as well as with life away from his parents. During his stay the youngster observes going-ons in the house, as he tells us: “Writers are shameless spies.”
There is enough to spy on as other lodgers are all colourful characters, society’s misfits, portrayed by a very strong cast: the two elderly ladies, Anna Kirke and Hildegard Neil, sticking together in poverty and in keeping up the pretence of good families and fine dining. Samantha Coughlan is excellent as the wealthy and bolshy Jane from New York, becoming increasingly vulnerable as a secret from her past unravels. Her crazy abusive affair with a local night-time stripper Tye, Paul Standell, shows us the foundations for Stella and Stanley in A Streetcar. Needed comic relief is delivered by a sharp David Whitworth playing the eccentric painter, sick and lonely, seeking company from the young writer.
Loneliness – the set-design of the beds, representing rooms, on the small stage seemed apt: the feeling of being cramped, stifled, yet alone. An atmosphere aided no doubt by last night’s sweltering heat, which added an extra dimension to the play. Even Nancy Crane’s landlady cantankerous Mrs Wire is lonely. An incident in which her testimony was denied by all her lodgers makes her once again realise she is alone. A feeling that makes her want to scream sometimes, which she then promptly does.
Though dealing with gloomy subjects, the script is not at all depressing: it is sharp and witty. It retains a feeling of optimism and paints a picture of people trying to live life the best as they know how, despite their faults. A play then so utterly human and so perfectly portrayed that, even while fanning myself with a program, I remained completely mesmerised.