If you can get down to the Bridewell just off Fleet Street at lunchtime you will be rewarded in the discovery of a Tennessee Williams jewel. Every Twenty Minutes is a ten minute zinger presented with magical panache by Lightbox Theatre which revels in producing intimate little play-gems to fill the forty-five minute end of morning chomp-slot – this time as part of the Bridewell’s Lunchbox programme – so bring your own skinny latte and hoisin duck wrap if you are so inclined as the theatre encourages you to do so. This short Williams homing-missile sees Liam Smith as Man, a middle-aged whisky-sodden, carper-grouch, a misogynistic original American Dinosaur, sporting full red-neck under his white collar, someone who knows it all and says it all without prompting and who’s “Make America Great Again” views would more than likely get hard-line Trump supporters a bad name. He doesn’t love his wife and he tells her; he never loved his wife and he tells her he lied about that and he thinks the suicide rate – one every twenty minutes – is far too low to control the type of people who don’t deserve to be alive – let alone American. And he’s not including himself in that.
Fighting against the tide of arrogant intolerance is Woman, Rebecca Pownall, the long-suffering, (unsurprisingly) headache-prone wife. She refuses to take a lover, like her spouse, because it disgusts her. Surely her husband using her as an emotional punch-bag would also disgust her – but apparently not enough to break the marital bond – an American ’thirties anachronism, zeroed-in on by Williams but which still has its residues today. And here we see Williams’s skill at delving into and dissecting the American psyche. Economy of dialogue, exposing underlying truths and holding a mirror up to the darkest recesses of repressed personality are the traits that mark Williams out as arguably the most influential American playwright of the twentieth century and Rebecca Pownall and Liam Smith, under the unerring guiding hand of director Emma Faulkner, do ample justice to William’s satirical script. Their display of laconic vitriol and quasi-innocent rebuttals is a masterclass in bringing the playwright’s words to life. Along with Faulkner’s subtle and engaging direction it’s worth a visit to the Bridewell just for this gem: but there’s a second course in this lunchtime treat.
Seagulls by Caryl Churchill is a quirky play about the quirky subject of Movers and Shakers. Pownall returns to play the part of the Shaker (i.e. manager) to the Mover, Valery, who has the ability to move objects purely by thought. Much to the pretend audiences disappointment (not to mention us, the actual audience’s disappointment) Valery fails to move any objects at all at this public charity demonstration of her psychic skill. But Pownall comes up with a treasure of an (intermittent) turn as the Manager Di who wants to shake things up and Liam Smith turns up again as ageing groupie Cliff who dotes on the Mover’s every movement. (That may not have come out right. Though, to be fair, Cliff does have an excruciatingly graphic toddler-toilet-accident story that he relates with slightly too much glee). Carol Starks is irritatingly whiny as the Mover but I for one was desperate to know what the red and blue rocket-like obelisk was that stood in the corner for the duration. (I don’t think it was another Tennessee Williams homing-missile). For such a slight subject the play is a little too long – it tends to drag when the effervescent Di is not in situ and one cannot help but think that Churchill could learn a thing or two from Tennessee Williams’s tight and abstemious scripting. That’s almost certainly sacrilege I know. And obviously, I will withdraw it unreservedly if Ms. Churchill ever gets to read it. I am well aware that lunch-time slaughter of sacred cows would normally be frowned upon.
One would have to say, though, that the Chinese seagull story, from which the play takes its name – we had to wait till right near the end to understand the (tentative) connection, is a tad vague and the link with the Movers and Shakers is a little sketchy. Maybe I’m missing something. Or maybe Brighton’s promotion to the Premiership is having a wider impact than I thought (Yeah, I know: gratuitous football reference).
Despite this reservation, the show is a thoroughly enjoyable lunchtime divertissement the like of which I hope to see many more of from the innovative Lightbox. And there is a whole catalogue of short Tennessee Williams homing-missiles that are deserving of renewed exposure by this excellent company.
Review by Peter Yates
Directed by Emma Faulkner and Liam Smith
Presented by Light Box Theatre
From couples and colleagues to friends and foes, EVERYDAY PEOPLE casts a spotlight on ordinary folk whose handle on situations isn’t what it seems, and is a unique chance to see the following overlooked plays:
EVERY TWENTY MINUTES by Tennessee Williams
SEAGULLS by Caryl Churchill