Saturday, 5 March 2011

I never Get Dressed Till After Dark On Sundays – Cock Tavern Theatre, London

Writer: Tennessee Williams
Director: Hamish MacDougall
Reviewer: Jemma Bicknell

I Never Get Dressed Till After Dark On Sundays is one of two plays by Tennessee Williams that are premièring at The Cock Tavern to mark his 100th birthday. Williams, a prolific and celebrated playwright certainly had his ups and downs in life, and this play was written after a stint in rehab for substance abuse, so is predictably cynical. A tiny theatre with a modestly quirky set, the nature of the space puts us almost physically in the room with the main couple, emphasised by actors popping up elsewhere. There's no other mucking about with props, just effectively precise lighting, which let's the story unfold effortlessly.

What's surprising about this play as a whole is its simplicity. We begin by feeling disengaged with the artificiality of the actors when they are 'in role' but soon the Russian doll effect pulls us into the inner play, and we find ourselves double-gripped. Shelley Lang (Jane) and Lewis Hayes (Tye) do a terrific job of gradually losing themselves in the inner play, and as their acting 'improves' we as an audience get to feel the satisfaction of being in on the asides. Their sceptical remarks flecked throughout,  bemoaning the sexist and melodramatic lines they're forced to say, are opportunely timed, and delivered with just the right amount of sarcasm to generate knowing  snickers from the audience.

The plot is suspended in time, perhaps an embodiment of Williams' bogged down mind at the time he wrote the play. The action takes place in one room and around that, one theatre. What is explored is the notion of being stuck in a rut, the couple's inescapable social position in New Orleans, enveloped in Williams' frustration at the inevitable etiquette and politics of the thespian world. Williams mocks this aspect throughout, not to mention the archetypal theatrical histrionics that his peers might have been guilty of in their writing. In a similar vein to a Fitzgerald novel, we receive snippets of extravagant tales from the mouth of someone unable to be shocked, the contrast elevating the gangster-lore further into preposterousness.

A sprinkling of a few suddenly racy and aggressive parts brings some psychological clout to the very dialogue driven action, and they deftly enable us to empathise with both Jane and Tye, moral sureties see-sawing. But it's when the pair collaborate with the drunken yet whimsical playwright that they truly reach the crux of the matter, a search for some sincerity in a world full of egos and uncertainty.

Runs until 26th March
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