Even the Confessional programme didn’t entirely make sense to me, equating this Tennessee Williams play with Brexit. I trust it is not too much of a spoiler – not one at all, in fact – to say there is no discernible correlation between the events in Williams’ play and a UK referendum more than thirty years after the great playwright’s death. I get the universality of his writing – the script does not reference specific landmarks of any particular region, and so the play can be just as easily set on this side of Atlantic, or indeed almost anywhere else.
There is, however, such a thing as the British reserve, even in these more liberal times where the absolute stiff upper lip at all times and in all places can come across as cold. It is quite ridiculous for a character or two to spend so much time ‘weeping and wailing’ (to quote Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales) in a pub and not have anyone ask them if they are okay, or their friends encourage them to call it a night. There isn’t anyone I know who wouldn’t simply make excuses and leave to drown their sorrows at home, or otherwise pull themselves together and stay for one, even if that ‘one’ drink becomes several.
This production made it difficult to concentrate on proceedings by way of its semi-immersive setting, with the entire theatre space decked out to look like a pub. The main foyer bar at Southwark Playhouse was thus eerily quiet when I arrived – ordinarily one would expect to have to yell just to be heard – as the bar in the ‘pub’ functioned as a bar, and we were encouraged to make use of it as part of the theatrical experience. But the novelty soon wears off as the deep and meaningful script sounded increasingly out of place in a ‘venue’ where people would go to let their hair down and socialise.
Leona (Lizzie Stanton) and her counterpart Violet (Simone Somers-Yeates) bawl, bawl and bawl some more until they sound like they could do with pacifiers stuck in their mouths, even as adults. The show’s programme claims the actors have the freedom to interpret their roles as they wish on the night, so long as they do not deviate from the script: “Each show is radically different.” I do hope the other performances in this run are indeed ‘radically different’ from the one I attended – I found myself clock-watching on more than one occasion, and as the house lights were up for the duration of the performance (fair enough: one does not expect to walk into a pub only for the lights to be turned off), it was easy to tell, looking around, that I wasn’t the only one who found this production mechanical and dreary.
There’s a reason why Confessional isn’t as well-performed or as well-known as much of Williams’ other plays – it’s good but not brilliant, and certainly not up there with the likes of A Streetcar Named Desire and Sweet Bird of Youth. Apparently, the only major difference with this production compared to the original is that it is performed in British accents. I find this assertion dubious unless Williams did indeed prescribe the use of a mobile telephone for use in a play set in the Fifties when he wrote it in the Seventies.
Perhaps this reviewer doth protest too much. But I still say the play tells me nothing new – there are people out there with certain, ahem, urges that need to be satisfied, and there’s no end to the lengths they are prepared to go to fulfil their desires. I mean, there are some good performances to be enjoyed, including the unimaginatively-named medic Doc (Abi McLoughlin) and Raymond Bethley’s likeable Monk, the pub landlord. While there are moments of brilliance in this play, the level of interest varies throughout the show – it’s engaging, but only when it wants to be.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Share a drink with a group of drunken regulars and watch their lives implode. Tramp’s innovative, semi-immersive production reimagines Tennessee Williams’s play, Confessional, in a run-down British seaside bar in Southend, frequented by life’s flotsam and jetsam.
Join the regulars in Monk’s bar over the course of a furious and fun evening, as a pair of strangers enter their world and all hell breaks loose. It’s a rollercoaster in real time through dashed dreams, delusional despair, and lost opportunities.
Director Jack Silver
Set Designer Justin Williams
Produced by Remy Blumenfeld
Cast: Lizzie Stanton, Rob Ostlere, Gavin Brocker, Raymond Bethley, Timothy Harker, Simone Somers-Yeates, AF McLoughlin, Jack Archer and Alex Kiffin.
by Tennessee Williams
77-85 Newington Causeway
London SE1 6BD
Box Office: 020 7407 0234
5th to 29th October 2016