It's been a while since we went to any 'serious' theatre; our evenings have been filled with magic, cabaret and musicals, so an invitation to see a rarely performed Tennessee Williams' play was very welcome. I think that the last time I saw a Tennessee Williams play it was 'The Night of the Iguana' starring Woody Harrelson around 2005, so this was long overdue.
Set in the present day on the Divina Costiera on the Amalfi Coast of Italy, we meet Flora Goforth known as 'Sissy' to her friends and lovers, she is played by Linda Marlow. Once a legendary beauty, and still so in her own mind, she is spending the summer writing her memoirs. These she dictates at random times, both day and night, to her PA 'Blackie', played by Lucie Shorthouse. This is probably the most sympathetic character in this play. 'Blackie' dares to assert her opinions about the structure and progress of the memoirs, and her opinions about other staff members and the rare visitors to the property.
Flora is dying, kept going by a mix of painkillers, brandy and morphine. Maybe it's these that make her an unlikeable character, but you rather suspect that she's always been that way. Her story of one of her late husbands' erratic driving in Monte Carlo reveals a lot about her character. There have been 4 husbands, of which she happily admits that she only loved the 4th, the other 3 were all about the $. She is begged by the Chief of Police to stop her husband driving so wildly in his fast car for his sake, her sake, and for the sake of others. Her cold response that, "there are no 'others' to me", shows the arrogance of the extremely rich. Blackie's response that she is one of the 'others' doesn't get a response from the self-obsessed Flora.
An invited guest, 'The Witch of Capri' played by Sara Kestelman brings some real chemistry to the show. We never find out why she has gained this nick name, maybe it's because like Flora she has had so many husbands that no-one can remember her surname.
She and Flora reminded me of visiting Capri as a young teenager in the early to mid 70s when Dorothy Squires lived there. It was impossible not to notice that there were many women of a certain age, dressed in silk kaftans being accompanied by beautiful young Italian men. These men were usually in tight white jeans and holding the lead to a small dog or two; the stereotypical gigolo. Maybe it was because of those memories that the present day setting didn't work for me, I think putting it back to 1962 when it was written would have helped the characters seem more credible.
The two women spar, not really liking each other, but glad of the company. But there is another guest, this one uninvited, staying in the pink villa. The two women unravel who he really is, and why he might have chosen to visit at this point in time. It transpires that Chris Flanders played by Sanee Raval, has gained the moniker of the 'Angel of Death' for his propensity to turn up when rich people are facing death pretty much alone as they have alienated the friends and family they might once have had.
As Flora faces her fear of death, sending away the staff, she's left alone with Chris. And we wonder quite what his intentions are, is he there to comfort her or to help her passing along? How will he live up to being 'The Angel of Death'? If you want to know, you'll have to see it for yourself!
This is one for the Tennessee Williams fans.
When: On now until 22nd October 2022
Where: Charing Cross Theatre (opposite Heaven just off Villiers Street)
The Arches, Villiers Street London WC2N 6NL
Tickets from £20.50