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Saturday, 27 October 2012

Theatre - Orpheus Descending - Royal Exchange

Star rating - 10/10

The latest play at the Royal Exchange is a fantastic archetypal one from Tennessee Williams - all smouldering passions and pent up tensions in a 1940s Deep South small town. A frustrated, lonely  and unhappy Lady Torrance has to live with her ailing elderly husband, whom she has never loved, whilst she dwells on her unfulfilled dreams. Into town comes sidling a young drifter with a snakeskin jacket and a guitar. And it proves of course to be an irresistible,  not to say combustible, combination.

Imogen Stubbs is fabulous as Lady - the outsider who rebels against the small town mentality of her fellow townsfolk. She last performed here in the brilliant Private Lives by Noel Coward, and in both productions she shows just what acting royalty she is - pure class. Luke Norris is also great as the young stranger who rides into town with a winning smile and charismatic words.

As with his other wonderful plays, such as A Streetcar Named Desire, Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, and The Glass Menagerie, this lesser known Tennessee Williams gem is full of smouldering tensions and prejudice, with its depiction of racism and intolerance of anyone who does not conform. And as a lesser known work, it was a real pleasure not to know the ending as the drama unfolded and the tension mounted - although it's title alone gives a clue to a less than ecstatic ending. It's a complex, brilliant play with many fascinating and absorbing themes, many of which are sadly still as relevant today as when the play was written.

A beautiful Blues guitar player accompanied many of the scene changes - a real treat. Director Sarah Frankcom has triumphed again after her fabulous A View From the Bridge here in 2011. This play is an absolute gem - tragic, passionate, and political. It is easily the best thing I have seen at any theatre so far this year - it truly mesmerised me, achieving as it does the holy trinity of wonderful writing, brilliant direction, and fabulous, simply fabulous, performances. 

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