Tennessee Williams’ first major play and his most autobiographical, enjoys a gripping, superbly cast revival by wunderkind director Rupert Goold, bringing us closer to the heart of the piece than any production I can recall.
Goold has synthesised the author’s several acting editions to create what is surely a definitive text, and gone are those awkward lighting effects and projected ‘slogans’ to signal a memory play.
Instead his whole focus is on the quartet of performances, rounded portrayals of a mother and her two troubled offspring - the cynical, hardworking Tom and his crippled sister Laura, whose sole interest is her collection of crystal animals - and, from the world outside, the affable Gentleman Caller, Tom’s colleague, invited to dinner as a possible beau for Laura, but revealing with quiet finality that he is already spoken for.
Jessica Lange has admitted that her Broadway incarnation of Amanda, the matronly Southern belle, was less than happy. But that experience pays handsome dividends - no garrulous dragon, her expressive body language, gestures, every intonation creating from within a poignant portrayal. If, lately, doubts have been expressed about the wisdom of importing Hollywood actors, Ms Lange brings compelling gifts of theatrical magic to grace the London stage.
Ed Stoppard as Tom, both narrator and participant, crackles with angry energy, while Amanda Hale is at once a waif-like recluse and a creature aroused to shimmering life and hope under the encouraging gaze of Mark Umbers’ warmly Irish visitor.
Matthew Wright’s semi-realistic setting incorporates the symbolic fire escape reaching to the flies, a design that matches the play with an enclosed domestic nest surrounded by a St Louis cityscape of shadowy girders, the total effect completed by Paul Pyant’s subtle lighting, closely following the author’s intentions, and an unobtrusive but atmospheric music and sound score by Adam Cork.