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The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore at Charing Cross Theatre

This play didn’t do that well on Broadway the first time around in 1963, and did worse the second time around, even with a revised script, running in 1964 for all of four days. There’s a reason why certain plays aren’t revived nearly as often as others: simply put, there are superior ones to choose from. This production will interest keen fans of Tennessee Williams’ other works, inasmuch as it gets them one step closer to seeing the entire canon of his plays. Aside from that, not an awful lot goes on, and by the interval, I didn’t feel particularly invested in proceedings to want to know, beyond a mild curiosity having never seen the play before, what was to come in the second half.

The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore. Lucie Shorthouse and Sanee Raval. Photo Nick Haeffner.
The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore. Lucie Shorthouse and Sanee Raval. Photo Nick Haeffner.

Linda Marlowe’s Flora Goforth has a questionable accent – I had no idea where it was from, and given the play is set in the Divina Costiera on the Amalfi Coast (that is, a stretch of coastline in southern Italy), she might as well have spoken in Received Pronunciation rather than varying between something approaching General American and something approaching Estuary English. Her assistant, Frances Black (Lucie Shorthouse), known as ‘Blackie’ (make of that what you will) as well as her visitor, Chris Flanders (Sanee Raval) go for American voices, as does Sara Kestelman’s ‘Witch of Capri’ (inverted commas mine), whose actual name is uncertain to the others at least partly on account of her being a serial divorcee.

The production brings the play into the modern era through the use of a tablet computer and mobile telephony, almost forcing the audience to view proceedings through contemporary lenses. The treatment of Rudy (Joe Ferrera) and Giulio (Matteo Johnson) by Goforth is therefore bizarre, doing that rather outdated thing of speaking in the native language to a certain extent before resorting to yelling at locals in English. Blackie is multi-lingual – indeed, Goforth does make some initial use of her skills in this regard, and then there’s always Google Translate (other online language conversion tools are, of course, available). Goforth also orders Flanders’ rucksack be searched in order to try to find out a bit more about him – does he not have an Instagram account? I could provide further examples, but I think the point is sufficiently made: the play should have been left in the era in which it was originally intended to be.

Weirdly, it would have been a more engaging experience had it been considerably hammier: Rudy, the bodyguard, brings some humour into proceedings thanks to some explosive expressions of emotion, but watching Goforth in this production is like (sorry to say) watching a certain political leader give a speech – take your pick at the time of writing, Government or Opposition – such is the lack of charisma. It even makes it difficult to sympathise very much or find poignancy with her eventual plight. I also got the feeling Goforth is meant to be living in the lap of luxury, having made her fortune one way or another, but she sits on the kind of clear plastic chairs found at Ikea. The same goes for the bed she sleeps in.

As someone who usually finds little pleasure in overloaded soundscapes that dominate a show, the relative lack of sound effects in this production is somewhat refreshing. The ‘Witch’ may be amusingly devious but doesn’t seem to have done anything to justify her nickname. Flanders, meanwhile, retains an opaqueness right up to curtain call, even if he does appear to be successful in doing what he set out to achieve. The interactions between the characters are intriguing more often than not. And there are unintentional occasional moments of amusement: for instance, what are meant to be alarming cries of distress at the start of both acts instead sound like, well, bedroom activity. A varied and tolerable experience.

3 Star Review

Review by Chris Omaweng

Tennessee Williams’ rarely performed The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore, an extraordinary play set on an exclusive mountaintop villa off the Amalfi coast premiered in Spoleto, Italy in 1962. It has often been referred to as a play worthy of its author’s justly celebrated name. Stage, TV and film star Linda Marlowe (Who appeared in Harold and Maude and the Tennessee Williams’ In The Bar of a Tokyo Hotel at the Charing Cross Theatre) plays Flora Goforth, a rich, terminally ill tour-time widow refusing to accept her own mortality, sitting in isolated splendour. Between shots of morphine and pills downed with brandy, she dictates her memoirs. Joining her is a cast which includes acclaimed actress Sara Kestelman in the role of the Witch of Capri.

Starring Linda Marlowe and Sara Kestelman, with Joe Ferrera, Matteo Johnson, Sanee Raval and Lucie Shorthouse.

Directed by Robert Chevara, Production Design by Nicolai Hart-Hansen, Lighting Design by Adam King, Casting by Ellie Collyer-Bristow.

The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore
26 September – 22 October 2022
https://charingcrosstheatre.co.uk/

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