The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore – Charing Cross Theatre, London

Reviewer: Chris Lilly

Writer: Tennessee Williams

Director: Robert Chevara

When Tennessee Williams had tired of writing about fading Southern Belles, he found symbolism. The young drifter character in this play gets called ‘the Angel of Death’ by everyone, so it isn’t difficult to guess his function, and the tension is in wondering when, not whether, he will fulfil his destiny. The ‘who’ is written in stone, there is only one important character – Mrs. Goforth.

A fading Southern Belle (Williams never entirely abandoned the trope), the widow Goforth is living in splendour on the Italian Riviera, dictating her memoirs to a put-upon secretary (Lucie Shorthouse), snacking on pain-killers and martinis by the quart jugful. She is visited by an old friend/ old rival, the ‘Witch of Capri’, played with scene-stealing zest by Sara Kestelman, and a young drifter, Christopher Flanders (Sanee Raval) who is identified pretty much straight away as the character known as ‘The Angel of Death’ in honour of his propensity for visiting wealthy widows ‘a step or two ahead of the undertaker’. The play unfolds along fairly predictable lines, there are a number of long speeches, especially from Mrs. Goforth (played by Linda Marlowe) as she ruminates on death and fate and the meaning of life, and we wait to see if The Angel of Death will comply with his nominative determinism.

The direction (Robert Chevara) and the design (Nikolai Hart-Hansen) both gesture towards Tennessee Williams’ stipulation of Kabuki elements – Mrs. Goforth wears a spectacularly unflattering replica of Kabuki robes and Sanee Raval is dressed as a sort of samurai in act two, but the ritual of it, the stylisation, is foregone, and the small remainders look somewhat lost, and totally irrelevant. Making the play more ritualistic gives a context for the philosophising and the symbolism. This naturalistic production makes those things seem over-written and a bit silly. There’s a fair bit of faltering acting and fluffy lines as well, and that doesn’t help. Sara Kestelman’s two scenes are over way too soon, and when she is off-stage there is very little snap in the playing.

The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore is rarely performed and hasn’t been filmed, so this production is interesting from a Tennessee Williams completist point of view; but it does seem, on this viewing, to be more along the lines of a ‘dramatic essay, rather than a play’, as Clive Barnes characterised Williams’ later work. Ciphers rather than characters, attitudes instead of emotions, Williams left his directors and his actors with a lot to do to bring this piece to life. And for this company, it is rather too much.

Runs until 22 Oct 2022

The Reviews Hub Score

Heavy, Handed, Hokum

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The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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