Southern Belles (Something Unspoken and And Tell Sad
Stiories Of The Deaths Of Queens)
King's Head Theatre Summer 2019
This programme of two
one-act plays written by Tennessee Williams during his most
productive period of the mid-1950s sensitively captures and
communicates a side of Williams too often overlooked by critical
Williams once wrote 'We
are all of us sentenced to a life
of solitary confinements in our own skins,' announcing that his true
subject was loneliness and the hunger for connection with others.
These two short plays touchingly show the desperation, the anguish of
failure and the need to carry on regardless.
In Something Unspoken a
well-off Southern woman is moved by her fading social standing to
reach out to her long-serving secretary-companion for emotional
support and a reassurance that there is something more than an
employer-employee relationship between them. But shyness, social
constraints and the class gap make open communication impossible.
is a play built entirely on subtext, with almost every single line
from either woman a coded allusion to something unspoken or
The temptation for
director Jamie Armitage and actors
Annabel Leventon and Fiona Marr to spell it all out must have been
great. But it is very much to their credit that they resist.
characters cannot say might be romantic and might even be sexual, but
to make it only that would be to reduce the play.
By respecting the
characters' need to leave things unsaid, Leventon and Marr make the
play about the greater and more pervasive loneliness that is
Williams's theme. And as a result it is as deeply moving as he could
If Something Unspoken is
about communication failure
through inability to express feelings openly, And Tell Sad Stories Of
The Deaths Of Queens is about two characters who declare themselves
openly but can't hear what the other is saying.
Ageing (that is to
say, in his mid-30s) homosexual Candy brings home straight sailor
Candy spells out as
clearly as he can that while he would not
be adverse to sex, what he really wants is a live-in friend, protege
and sort-of-husband to assuage his loneliness. And Karl makes it
clear that he is totally straight and would as happily beat up a
queer as take his money.
But such is the
neediness of both, Williams
shows us, that they are half drawn in to Candy's fantasy.
challenge for the actors in Something Unspoken was to sustain
ambiguity, here the task facing Luke Mullins (Candy) and George
Fletcher (Karl) is to say everything openly but not hear what the
other is saying.
directed by Jamie Armitage, both
actors create and sustain our sympathy for both by letting us see and
believe the hunger for connection that makes them deny the
impossibility of connecting.
Incidental elements in
some of Tennessee
Williams's best-known plays led to an unwarranted reputation for
writing about the violent and grotesque, when his real subject was
always the quieter and more universal loneliness of life.
This beautifully understated staging of two short but emotionally complex plays captures the essence of Williams's vision in a thoroughly satisfying evening.
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Review - Southern Belles - King's Head Theatre 2019