King’s Head Theatre
This short two scene play by Tennessee Williams, was written between 1957 and 1962. This was a few years after Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and when he was writing other classics such as Suddenly Last Summer. Set in New Orleans in the home of “Candy” Delaney, who attempts to seduce and keep a straight sailor she has picked up in a bar.
With a transvestite as the central character and a gay young couple of tenants living upstairs, it is unsurprising that this wasn’t performed in Tennessee Williams lifetime. That fact that it was only published as a play in 2005 accounts for why it’s not often performed even now. We have though in Candy and her brutish sailor Karl recognisable figures from other Williams’ play, most notably Blanche DuBois and Stanley from A Streetcar Named Desire. And themes of desire, loss, and deception that often run through Williams plays like the hot sticky nights of the Deep South.
This production at the King’s Head Theatre was sadly only on for a short run as part of the current Queer Season. The central role of Candy, played beautifully by Luke Mullins, was both tender and powerful. Tennessee Williams has written a great part: the fast talking, street-smart and well-off Candy has lost her husband to “another woman” and thinks she has found love in her handsome sailor Karl (George Fletcher). We not only see a seamless transition as Candy turns herself from a man into a woman, but Candy narrates how her manners and voice become more feminine. Whilst her sailor is in equal measure appalled and aroused, we the audience are captivated. She appears strong, and in control and able to get what she wants, but like all Williams’ women, she is also tragic. It is a fabulous performance.
George Fletcher as Karl has a difficult part in so short a play, even separated in time over the two scenes. We need to be convinced that he is all man, and yet lured back by a man to his home. He then needs to be moved by Candy’s story and then won-over by her, whilst holding back, keeping a revulsion in him that Candy is really a man. All these conflicting emotions are subtly portrayed, so we do believe the consequences when they come. Ryan Kopel deserves a mention too as one of the young gay neighbours, whose angelic voice opens the play with a song that sets the emotional tenor of the play.
The staging of this production was hampered by the layout of the stage and seating (presumably set up for this Queer Season as I’ve seen other configurations), as depending where you were seated you either couldn’t see the faces of the actors, or you were blinded by the lighting. Neither are great for the audience, but you accept the former in a theatre-in-the-round production, but not the latter.
Overall though it is a touching story, with sharp language and terrific central performances that cut through. This is a play, short though it is, that touches on universal themes, and queer hopes and fears too. And for that I was delighted I got to see it performed, and I only hope it gets more outings.
Reviewed Friday 17 August (seat A22)