When you sort through the chaff of the bitter wheat of this collection of Tennessee Williams-inspired short plays then it is pleasing and inspiring to come across a glinting, golden ear of maize in Happy Tenth of August – a superb piece of writing by Chloe Ewart, with magnetic performances by Ewart herself alongside Amy Garner Buchannan. The interplay of these two actors is mesmerising led by a wonderfully poignant, genuine and frighteningly realistic script. It’s an old concept – don’t know what you want but I can’t give it any more (as pet Shop Boys would say) – but it’s adorned with a freshness and vitality that is both moving and knowing: we immediately recognise facets of our own existence in the dying embers of a relationship between two women. The narrative has a clever Groundhog Day-type ruse and we stay gripped and entranced throughout. Working with James Graham has clearly had a positive effect on Ewart’s writing. Lucy Foster’s direction is right on point and good ol’ Tennessee himself might well have raised a chuckle at this sparkling script as well as appreciating the in-depth analysis of a fading love affair. It’s good and it’s captivating.
Ewart’s pen also provides us with The Field of Blue Children – a 15 minute monologue delivered by Claire Cartwright. It’s about pregnancy and to be honest, although we have some of Ewart’s empathy-piercing lines, it’s generally a bit old hat with it’s Dad jokes and Kirk jokes and men-are-thick jokes. Cartwright does her best to bring it to life but Sarah Berger’s direction is rather static and pedestrian.
Arbeit Macht Frei by Naomi Westerman is meta-meta-meta theatre: i.e. it’s a play about a playwright writing a play about writing plays. With cats. Unlike the others it’s a rehearsed (I think) reading and is so convoluted as to be positively abstruse. Anyone setting up a creative writing course should snap this up as a great example of ‘How to Over-write a Script’. Dear Audrey by Jalice Corral is a brief sketch about abortion. With jokes.
The show kicks off with Williams’s own short play Mister Paradise. A dying, forgotten poet is visited by a student who wants to reclaim him for the world. He doesn’t want to be reclaimed. Williams wrote dozens of one-act plays and this is amongst his finest. It’s unfortunate, therefore, that director Gretchen Egolf dresses the dissolute and unkempt poet (Martin Edwards) in spotless white shirt and trousers with neatly manicured facial hair so that he appears akin to a Deep South cotton farmer rather than the down-and-out lodger of a squalid New Orleans tenement. Both Edwards and Maria Austin, as the student, find the Southern drawl a challenge and the piece doesn’t get across that trademark Tennessee Williams edgy probing of the characters’ self-doubt and repressed sexuality.
Sarah Gage provides incidental music which she performs on stage. The producers should be commended for an interesting experiment in presenting a “slough of female voices” inspired by the works of Tennessee Williams but I
was left with the feeling that Williams is quite able to look after himself so why not throw off the shackles and let these female voices let rip with their own original ideas – following the excellent lead of Chloe Ewart.
Review by Peter Yates
Mister Paradise by Tennessee Williams
Arbeit Macht Frei by Naomi Westerman
Inspired by the essay “The Man in the Overstuffed Chair”
Dear Audrey by Jalice Corral
Inspired by Tennessee Williams’ letters to Audrey Wood
Happy Tenth of August by Chloe Ewart
Inspired by the short story “Happy August the 10th”
The Field Of Blue Children by Chloe Ewart
Inspired by the short story “In the Field of Blue Children”
Mister Paradise by Tennessee Williams
Life Story by Madeline Schneider
Inspired by the poem “Life Story”
Something by Tolstoi by Amy Garner Buchannan
An adaptation of the short story “Something by Tolstoi”
Dark Horse by Karran Collings
Inspired by the short story “The Yellow Bird”
The End of the Party by Naomi Westerman
Inspired by the short story “Two on a Party”
Chloë Ewart: Chloë is a working-class actor and writer of British and Chinese heritage, born and bred in Leeds,
now based in London and Zurich. As a writer, Chloë most recently collaborated on James Graham’s Sketching.
The play ran at Wilton’s Music Hall, and was subsequently published by Methuen Drama. Prior to that she
received funding from Film London for her short film, Cupidity, as part of the London Calling 2016 slate, which
went on to win ‘Best Short’ at the Unrestricted View Film Festival.
Chloë has written and performed several short plays including Penpals (Southwark Playhouse) and 24 Hours
(The Vaults Festival). Acting credits include An Klondike season 1 & 2 (TG4/Netflix), Coronation Street (ITV),
Jade Dragon (Jackdaw Productions), Emmerdale (ITV), Torchwood (Big Finish Productions), Moon Lake
(Variable State), The Talk (UK tour), Meat (Southwark Playhouse), Blood (Tristan Bates Theatre).