It’s the honeymoon from hell: Korean War vet George has married trainee nurse Isabel at Christmas, only to find that he’s unable to consummate the union. When the couple decide to visit Ralph, George’s old army buddy, he tells them that every marriage needs a “period of adjustment”. But Ralph has problems of his own - he’s quit his job and his own wife has just walked out on him.
Tennessee Williams’ rarely performed play is a tragi-comedy that reeks of the sexual repression of the American south in the 1950s. With typical symbolism, the playwright sets Ralph’s impoverished suburban home on a geological fault so that subsidence results in a vivid crack that tears through Mike Britton’s homely set.
Originally staged in New York in 1960, this bittersweet tale takes quite a while to warm up but when it does, what emerges is classic Williams. The bond between Ralph and George is homoerotic and the women seem to sap the life out of the men. But Williams has a great heart and his play’s truth-telling second half radiates a moving and consoling warmth.
Meticulously directed by Howard Davies, this rare gem stars Jared Harris as the middle-aged Ralph, whose whole life is an affliction and Lisa Dillon as Isabel, the daddy’s girl who is lost in the big, wide world. Benedict Cumberbatch is equally impressive as her nervous husband and Sandy McDade provides good support as Ralph’s spouse. All in all, this is a really classy revival.