Writer: Tennessee Williams
Director: Jack Silver
Reviewer: Heather Deacon
There are few writers who can have their work performed 50 years later and have it still feel as fresh as a G&T on a warm day, and even those need a brave and experimental hand behind them. Jack Silver not-quite directing Confessional by Tennessee Williams is surely the best example of this around. It’salmost like nothing has changed, especially in rural seaside English towns.
First, one must mention the set, without which the play wouldn’t feel as authentic. Justin Williams, the designer, has recreated, almost exactly, that singular local pub by the sea that, if you dare visit, you are dolefully uncomfortable in as it becomes ever more apparent you don’t belong… a place where the performers can rule the roost as they portray the resident drunks who bray their stories and are faithfully listened to. It’s intricate, with a mismatch of rickety chairs, chalkboards, flyers of the local fair bluetacked to the wall, a slightly sticky bar and dingy lighting by Jack Weir. The perfect setting for a play that immerses you so much you don’t mind an actor taking a swig of your red wine… even if that is perhaps something that would never be permitted in real life Southend, where the play is set.
Not feeling staged is the point of the piece, as it turns out (you receive your explanatory programme as you leave) it’s entirely improvised, apart from the unaltered words of Williams. This works beautifully with troubled Violet (Simone Somers-Yeates) and pub chef Steve (Rob Ostlere – getting the rough and slightly dirty microwave expert down to a tee) tenderly (then not so tenderly) touching while listening to Leona Dawson, played by the marvellous Lizzie Stanton, decorate the atmosphere with her poetic woe as she wrestles with the complexities and pointlessness of life and the anniversary of her gay brother’s death. Leona seems to meet everyone’s eye, a depressed but articulate inebriate with a captive audience proving that even trailer park trash can comprehend the world with grace. Sometimes it is difficult for the audience to know where to look, but wherever you look, there’s always something to take in, even if that sometimes meant you missed the central story.
Confessional is exactly that, a confessional, and quite the enlightening and genuine experience, with each night promising a different encounter due to the lack of direction, usually a bad thing but you’ll find there’s nothing “as usual” about this play. Great stuff.
Runs until 29 October 2016 | Image:Simon Annand