(c) Photo: Simon Annand
There's something about plays set in pubs/bar that naturally brings with it a sense of melancholy and a gathering of disparate characters. Tennessee Williams – long known for writing some of the stage's most iconic female characters – like most artists had his successes and works that were less performed during his lifetime. Tramp Theatre Company have taken Confessional, one of Williams' lesser works – and transposed it to a coastal town in Essex. Starring Lizzie Stanton, she plays Leona Dawson, a beautician who has more than her hands full with her Bill (Gavin Brocker), her fella with the roaming eye. If he wasn't enough to contend with, the play takes place on the anniversary of Leona's brother's death, someone she was once very close to. Still wrought at his passing, she plays Tchaikovsky's Serenade Melancholique on the jukebox because it reminds her of his talents as a musician.
Wih no release valve, few are spared from Leona's criticism or sharp tongue , whether it is Violet (Simone Somers-Yeates) who is even more distraught than Leona, but 'gifted with her hands', or 'Doc' (Abi McLoughlin) – who practises medicine despite having a drinking problem. Is Leona anger at Doc (a clever piece of gender reversal from the original text) because she's a woman and therefore should be sober when dealing with unborn children - 'in either capacity'..?
Asides from Monk (Raymond Bethley) who runs the bar, the one person that's spared her ire is Bobby, one of two gay men who visit that night. Reminding her of who she's lost, her sorrow has no chance of abating...
There is no doubting that Confessional is a Williams' play with his idiosyncratic vernacular, and its themes of sexuality and loss. On the flip side, it is a Williams' play from 40+ years ago – so distinctive and of its time that there is an incongruity with its location of Essex 2016.
What really sells the veracity of the show is Stanton's performance, whose Leona is a fearless creature in pain, unafraid to let he world knows how deeply she feels. As for the set design of Justin Williams, the difference between it and a real pub is imperceptible and as an immersive performance, a pleasure to sit within.
© Michael Davis 2016
Confessional runs at the Southwark Playhouse until 29th October 2016.