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 The Theatreguide.London Review

His Greatness
Finborough Theatre   Spring 2012

Inspired by an event in the life of Tennessee Williams, Canadian playwright Daniel MacIvor's drama shows one small step downward in a great writer's decline. 

Nothing very major or cataclysmic happens, but things are a little worse at the end than they were at the beginning, with no indication that they're going to go anywhere but further downward much, indeed, like the endings of some of Williams' plays. 

This playwright is in a provincial city as far from Broadway as possible, for a production of one of his plays. His companion-cum-secretary gets him up, bullies him into getting into presentable shape, and even buys him an escort for the evening to cheer him up. 

The performance goes well, the date goes well, and then the reviews appear. Things are said and done amongst the trio that can't be withdrawn, and if life goes on, it will be with even less confidence and control. 

The strength of MacIvor's play is that it does capture a sense of what Williams' life was reportedly like in his later years, with a reliance on liquor, drugs and young men to keep him going as he clung to the hope that his creative powers hadn't completely disappeared.

The weakness of MacIvor's play is that it is too obviously about Tennessee Williams, encouraging us to relate to it as voyeurs at a semi-documentary. MacIvor hasn't imagined his character beyond portraiture or caricature, and so the play can't move beyond the specific. 

Williams himself, in some of his most autobiographical plays, made his characters more essence-of-writer than self-portrait, and thus enabled the plays to have resonances beyond biography. MacIvor's play would be more evocative and powerful if it weren't so obviously just about one specific individual. 

Given that limitation, that this is going to be a play about Tennessee Williams and nothing more, Che Walker's production is successful, particularly as he guides his actors through the minefield of playing characters who are each playing roles. 

Coming to rehearsals very late to replace an ailing actor, Matthew Marsh accomplishes the very tricky act of playing a man who had turned himself over the years into something of a self-caricature without making his Marsh's performance a mere caricature. 

Russell Bentley captures the feeling of being a put-upon wife that comes with being a long-time assistant, while Toby Wharton allows a few peeks at the real person behind the stud's professional faade.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - His Greatness - Finborough Theatre 2012   

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