Friday, 16 September 2016

Review A Lovely Sunday For Creve Coeur

Francis Beckett bathes in the nostalgia and delusion of a late Tennessee Williams' play set in America's deep south and is equally beguiled by the historic Coronet Theatre. 

A Lovely Sunday For Creve Coeur
by Tennessee Williams

Beer And Skittishness

The Print Room at The Coronet is one of those places which tell you that there is still hope for London. Even  without the full refurbishment it deserves, it is magnificent. 

Arriving for a performance of the 1970s' Tennessee Williams' play A Lovely Sunday At Creve Coeur,  I started in the bar, standing with producer Veronica Humphris on a fiercely sloping floor surrounded by walls in a deep shade of red, huge and ornate doors, and eccentric wall hangings. 

She told me about plans to restore it to its former glory, if the money can be found. The theatre had a  distinguished early career after its opening in 1898, graced by the likes of Ellen Terry and Sarah Bernhardt.

It became a cinema in 1923, then narrowly escaped closure and conversion into a McDonaldshamburger joint  An energetic campaign saved it for theatre and, while it now has smaller scale performance spaces run by a charity, it's still a wonderful temporary compromise.

At this performance the great red columns of the original theatre merge seamlessly into the red walls of a beautiful and meticulous set (designer: Fotini Dimou.) for the one-act drama set in Missouri directed by Michael Oakley.

We are in a small apartment in 1930s' St Louis, shared by the lovely Dorothea, who is desperate for a husband, and the frumpy Bodey, who has given up hopes of a husband and is desperate for nephews and nieces.

Dorothea is a fragile Southern Belle, not unlike Tennessee Williams’s more famous Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire, is in love with a man whom we are sure (correctly) from the start will turn out to be a scoundrel . 

She exercises furiously in an effort to maintain her allure. On her the evening turns, and she is brought to magnificent and entirely believable life by Laura Rogers, who will be the fittest woman in London by the end of the run.

Debbie Chazen as Bodey offers exactly the right mix of resignation and disappointment, hope and kindness. Hermione Gulliford is excellent as the scheming, manipulative Helena, who threatens to disrupt their lives, and there is a nice cameo of demented neighbour, Miss Gluck, from Julia Watson.

Yet the character who came to life most strongly for me was a character we never meet, Bodey’s brother Buddy. Bodey and Buddy are of German ancestry. Both are overweight, but Buddy encourages his expanding girth with plentiful daily supplies of beer and bratwurst, while he indulges a cigar smoking habit.   

He appears to be a solid citizen, not just physically, and, encouraged by his sister, he has set his sights on getting Dorothea to share his life. Having reduced  his daily beer intake, he vows to cut it down even further.    

But one suspects that this is more his sister’s project than Buddy’s own, and it is her dreams of nephews and nieces she can nurture which will really be shattered if it does not come off.  At the end, it looks as though it might come off, and the author seems rather to approve of this outcome; I beg to disagree with the author.

The play is a little predictable, but we quickly learn to care about what happens to Dorothea and Bodey.  It does not offer the emotional charge of Tennessee Wiliams’s more famous work, but it has a charm and humour which they lack.  It’s a good evening in the theatre; a green light from me.

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