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Southern Belles review at King’s Head Theatre, London – ‘uneven Tennessee Williams double bill’

Luke Mullins, Ben Chinapen and Michael-Burrows in Southern Belles at King's Head Theatre, London. Photo: Scott Rylander
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You can see why director Jamie Armitage has paired these two Tennessee Williams one-act plays together for King’s Head Theatre’s Queer Season.

Thematically, Something Unspoken and And Tell Sad Stories of the Death of Queens share uneven power balances and behind-closed-doors queer leanings, but when placed alongside one another they have the disadvantage of highlighting both the pros and cons of short plays.

Something Unspoken follows a wealthy social grandee and her secretary in a pink living room as they navigate a succession of telephone calls.

The pacing is as sluggish as a muggy Deep South afternoon – or a London heatwave for that matter – and the allusiveness quickly wears thin. Annabel Leventon and Fiona Marr give stoic performances, but they really haven’t much to work with.

In contrast, And Tell Sad Stories of the Death of Queens is astounding. Written in 1958 but never performed during Williams’ lifetime, the script carries just as much emotional heft as his most celebrated works.

Equal parts violent, sinister and tragic, it captures the innate dangers of being queer in mid-century USA and, indeed, a depressing number of countries today.

Luke Mullins excels as Candy, the protagonist, swinging from self-loathing to coquettishness with disarming ease, while George Fletcher’s restraint in the part of his boneheaded love interest is effective.

While it probably wasn’t the intention, Southern Belles shows how you can achieve two drastically different audience experiences from what, on the surface, appears to be similar material.

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Uneven double bill of under-appreciated Tennessee Williams' short plays about the queer experience