(seen at the Almeida Theatre at the afternoon performance on 10th March
2018). Some actors have now left the cast.
In a play concerned with religion and conformity, the Tom Scutt design of simple
circular wooden floor, half enclosed by a raised step containing nine upright
pianos is a masterpiece. 9 is, of course, a holy number – the number of times
Christ appeared to his apostles, the spiritual gifts of God, St Paul’s nine
fruits of spirit, and more. Alternatively, they may have had a German exchange
student working on the show, who was asked if pianos were required…
Either way, combined with Lee Curran’s impressive lighting as we move towards
enlightenment and the cast under Rebecca Frecknall’s expert economical
direction, the result is a high-impact presentation of a lesser seen Tennessee
Patsy Ferran is pastor’s daughter Alma Winemiller. Wracked with anxiety and
unfulfilled needs for love, her infatuation with bad-boy Doctor’s son next door
John Buchanan (Matthew Needham) is the arc of the play from one early summer to
the following spring.
Ferran has developed into a towering acting presence. A fan from “Blithe Spirit”
onwards, it is a joy to watch the full range of mature dramatic skill, so much
more than simple comedy as so many more emotions are expressed, each as attuned
as the other. Needham matches her line-for-line, his trickier emotional
transition rendered credible thanks to an impressive natural physical quality in
his body language.
Around the pair, the supporting cast are in stellar orbit of their own. As both
Alma and John’s father, Forbes Masson needs only a cane to metamorphosize,
frequently. He has a rather impressive singing voice too, it must be noted.
Vocally, and indeed metamorphorically, love interests Nellie, Rosemary, Rosa and
Pearl, all played by Anjana Vasan are portrayed with equal skill. This versatile
actor will hopefully be seen by enough casting agents during the run to ensure a
full diary for years to come. To play both heart-breakers and heart-brokens and
keep switching is a rare technical achievement.
As Alma’s mentally distressed mother and also neighbourhood observer (to be
polite) Mrs Basset, Nancy Crane is another double actor able to carry off two
difficult roles. Kleptomaniac or gossip, both are equally successful, her
deterioration moving yet controlled when it would be all to easy to lose focus.
Eric MacLennan does well in the smaller roles of dangerous Papa Gonzales, and
also as Vernon. A real sense of danger is neatly created. Similarly, Tok Stephen
as Roger Doremus and Dusty is a neat co-conspiritor. Final mention for Seb
Carrington, who waits until the end for a single scene as his professional
debut, but is another to note for future casting as a supporting lead.
This tale of small town life, love and morality is almost instantly gripping,
and holds attention not only in plot but the actual characters to the end.
Intimate and satisfying as we share the emotional journey, it may not be quite
the punchiest Williams ever, but it is certainly almost as memorable as the
fabled Young Vic “Streetcar,” with a cast that equals them.
If you can get a ticket, go.