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Posts Tagged ‘Sweet Bird of Youth’

In addition to almost forty full-length plays, Tennessee Williams wrote more than seventy one-act plays. I know I will never see them all, but I grab every opportunity I get, but I’ve still only seen a quarter of them. I enjoyed both of these, but the second one in particular was fascinating.

The first in the pairing, Something Unspoken, was written in 1958, the same year as Suddenly Last Summer, the year after Orpheus Descending and the year before Sweet Bird of Youth, all of which have had high profile stagings in the last two years. He wasn’t writing one-acters because he’d run out of steam; they were scattered throughout his career. It concerns Cornelia, a rich southern belle, living with Grace, her secretary / companion of fifteen years. As was the norm at that time, the true nature of their relationship is ambiguous, even buried. Cornelia is preoccupied with her place in society, and in particular the ladies association she aspires to lead, perhaps more so that her relationship.

The second play, And Tell Sad Stories Of The Deaths Of Queens, was originally written in 1957 but re-worked over the next five years. It was TW’s only openly gay play and had it been performed or published then, probably the first openly gay play of all, but it wasn’t staged until 2004 or published until 2005, more than twenty years after his death. It revolves around a wealthy New Orleans design shop and property owner known as Candy.

Since his partner of eighteen years left him, Candy is alone and lonely. He picks up Karl in a bar, a sailor, a bit of rough, and becomes obsessed with him, even though Karl does not share the attraction and is repulsed when Candy appears as a woman. He’s clearly there for what he can get – booze, money – but this doesn’t stop Candy’s attempts to create a relationship, despite the risks his neighbouring gay tenants warn him of. It might be more than sixty years old, but the story could be contemporary.

Director Jamie Armitage and his designer Sarah Mercade have configured the Kings Head with the audience on two sides, which provides a more spacious playing area that proves particularly effective and important for the second play. It’s carpeted in pink and surrounded by white and pink fabric, giving the space an other-worldly quality. Songs sung and played live by actors Michael Burrows and Ben Chinapen add to this atmosphere. It was great to see Annabel Leventon on stage again as Cornelia, with probably the most authentic southern accent I’ve ever heard. In the second play, Luke Mullins was outstanding as Candy, in a nuanced, delicate, mesmerising performance.

Great to add such high quality productions to my TW collection.

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