Tennessee Williams’ talent was in gathering up the driftwood of modern society to reveal the humanity in our misery. Confessional, a one-acter from his later years, is set in a seafront bar where there’s already an impressive catch of humanity drifting in a sea of alcohol-fuelled straight and gay encounters.
Done here as an immersive set, with a cast mercifully eschewing faux American accents for the authentic tones of the Essex seaboard, it’s a rollercoaster in real time through dashed dreams, delusional despair and lost opportunities. Laid-back bar-owner Monk (Raymond Bethley) presides referee-like over a slew of volatile customers dominated by Leona (Lizzie Stanton), the feisty trailer park beautician who’s just whacked her mentally ill mate Violet (Simone Somers-Yeates), who’s now crying her eyes out in the ladies’ loo.
No mere gimmick, the immersion is key because individually it’s an uneven cast, not helped by Williams’ script which typically veers from spot-on to self-important. But dropping all this – plus the audience – into a bar creates the setting for inspired overall performances and brings convincing depth to Williams’ vignettes.
Director Jack Silver has therefore created a mini-masterpiece of theatre where the cast seriously shows its chops via a parallel script of background chat and regular rounds. Indeed Monk turns out to be the perfect host while the other characters will more than likely, if asked, provide a live running commentary on the flare-ups and punch-ups. Oh, and did I mention the free beer?