REVIEW: Southern Belles (Kings Head Theatre) ★★★★★

Prickly, tense and brewing with malcontent, Tennessee Williams’ is as relevant now as in his 40’s and 50’s heyday when his cataloguing of petty enmities and bitter cruelties captivated audiences in ‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof’ and ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’. Tennessee Williams work was ahead of his time, channelling some uncomfortable truths of his own minutiae into complex characters that we radiate to and are simultaneously repelled by.

Self-loathing is art and there is a still a draw to the drawl as the capacity house for this twin-set of two handers that the Kings Head proves.

Culled from lesser known works that have been overshadowed by the critical successes, Southern Belles is two one-act, two handed plays, expertly performed and deftly directed in the newly refurbished space at the Kings Head. The set is simplistic and domestic; a reddish carpet welcomes you in and gives you a false sense of comfort.

The two pieces are a world apart in pace and tone. Something Unspoken is about the love that dare not speak its name between a wealthy socialite and the secretary she rescued across the ‘chasm’ of 15 years where their attraction and connection has been denied a voice and is subsumed into their professional relationship. Solid stoic performances from Annabel Leventon as Miss Cornelia Scott and Grace Lancaster, her loyal secretary beautifully bolster quite a static piece loaded with intricate dialogue and intrigue, Williams double line spacing allowing for the unspoken to be centre stage.

Something Unspoken was originally paired with ‘Suddenly Last Summer’ for its debut but here is consciously coupled with the radically different And Tell Sad Stories of the Deaths of Queens. Harrowing in both name and nature, this is a powerhouse of a rendition of the mortifying encounters between said queen and a repressed self-loathing Sailor. Again, the art is between the lines and embedded in the truthfulness of the performances. Luke Mullins is incendiary as the outrageous Candy Delaney. Never performed in Williams’’ lifetime, the piece hasn’t aged, in fact more relevant in the #post-truth age. I wonder if Williams’ real gift was to understand that you should pay less attention to what isn’t said for that is where the ‘truth’ is to be found.

A spectacular renaissance. And one that you shouldn’t miss.

Reviewed by Ruby Blue
Photo: Scott Rylander

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