Arcola Theatre, London E8
Opened 12 September, 2008

On the last outing in 1999 of Tennessee Williams’ 1972 play, I wrote that it “is not by any means a slight work.” I would now beg to differ. It is a textbook example of what I have grown to think of as jazz playwriting: define a basic chord progression – that’s your situation; play a chorus or two with the band, or cast; then give each of them space to blow a solo. So, here, one night in a Pacific beachfront bar, a bunch of regulars and a newcomer or two, a few spats, fewer reconciliations, a series of soul-barings, the characters continue in their divers undistinguished ways through the foggy night (hence both the literal and figurative senses of the title).
The distinction given to this production is its direction by Bill Bryden and the fact that he reunites several members of the ensemble he ran in the Cottesloe in the late 1970s and early ’80s. Jack Shepherd is almost the Platonic ideal of grizzled stoicism as bar owner Monk even when, on press night, repeatedly slipping on some ketchup which had dripped on to the stage from a pair of hot dogs. Greg Hicks makes up in brooding presence what his character, a middle-aged, gay, hack screenwriter, lacks in lines; it almost seems part of the permanent drunkenness of John Nolan’s struck-off Doc that he scarcely bothers with an American accent.
The foreground parts are both female. Meredith MacNeill catches well the web of damage and dissociation which entangles Violet, not a whore so much as a cracked, compulsive masturbatrix of any man that comes within reach. Sian Thomas is a fine mixture of venom and concern as trailer-trash beautician Leona: as she alternates between lashing out and solicitous straight-talking, it is as if she wants to be a tender person but a lifetime of conditioning keeps setting off contrary reflexes.
The events, such as they are – some sleeping arrangements change, an offstage character dies – seem included largely to punctuate the monologues, which are generally delivered straight out to the audience as the playwright provides little alternative. This is a useful opportunity to see some late Williams (London has of late been more preoccupied with his apprentice pieces), but I now feel that this is not by any means a major work.
Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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