'Vieux Carre' review or 'A bleeding bonkers boarding house'

'Vieux Carré', Tennessee Williams
Charing Cross Theatre, Thursday 16th August
Written for The Metro

Sparky if not substantial stuff. Photo Credit: Tim Medley

A police officer bangs on the door of Mrs Wire's New Orleans' boarding house and screams: 'Christ, is this a fucking madhouse?' Considering that Mrs Wire has just poured boiling water over a bunch of revellers and there's a man upstairs drowning in his own blood, the short answer would have to be yes. These are just some of the inmates in Williams' rarely revived play, 'Vieux Carré', and boy are they bonkers.

All of life, in its steaming and messy glory, festers in this flawed but unsettling show. There's the dying and deluded Jane (Samantha Coughlan), who's holding out for her gentleman caller. Her boyfriend, Tye (Paul Standell), recalls Streetcar's Stanley, with his brawny bravado and glimmers of tenderness. A young writer, with 'soft skin and a stone heart', narrates the play and there's a whiff of Williams about him.

Initially, there's a haunting power to Robert Chevara's production, as we watch these lost souls jostle against each other. This is a place so sad that loneliness lingers in the walls. Unfortunately, the cloying intimacy of the King's Head production has been lost in this West End transfer. Hart Hansen's design, which leaves the rigging exposed and renders the squalid house a mere afterthought, dilutes the space and dwarfs the actors.

There's little plot here and the play's success depends on the sheer force of its characters. Trapped in such a vast stage and vague set, the actors – despite playing such huge characters – feel too distant and small.


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