“I don’t know anything about Strindberg but it don’t sound practical to me”
The other part of the Young America mini-season at the National, Spring Storm is Tennessee Williams’ second play, written whilst still at college and this is apparently the first time the play has been performed in Europe. Set in the Mississippi delta, Southern belle Heavenly has almost everything a young woman could desire, but when she’s forced to decide between dull and respectable suitor Arthur and her handsome, wild lover Dick, her actions cause a chain of consequences that tear their lives apart.
I loved the fact that the central love triangle was cast the same as in Beyond the Horizon. As the impassioned Heavenly, Liz White is superb, throwing herself about with gay abandon in search of the grand amour that will satisfy her beating heart but also aware of the need to secure her position in life to avoid spinsterhood. Her performance here could have been the younger cousin of Rachel Weisz’s Blanche DuBois, one can definitely see how Williams’ incubated that character here. As her suitors, Michael Malarkey does better as the dull and mannered but rich Arthur, playing him with a real note of sadness , carrying much baggage from childhood. As the more masculine, rugged Dick, Michael Thomson brings such a real sexuality and physicality that one can see why Heavenly is reluctant to quit him, but it would have been nice to see more to him than the dumb jock.
Funnily enough, one of my notes from the O’Neill play was how I wanted better drawn adult characters, not least so that we could see more of Jacqueline King and Joanna Bacon, and lo and behold we got them! And in scenes together too, displaying some more of their great chemistry together as the snobbish matriarch of the house concerned for reputation above all and her spinsterish sister-in-law barely tolerated in their fading mansion, for daring to accept her lot in life as one of the ‘old maids’ Heavenly fears becoming.
The set initially quite cluttered and ugly, but evocative of a Deep South sensibility, and the reasons for the clutter soon become apparent in creating a nice array of locations. Although not as jaw-droppingly amazing as the scene changes in The White Guard, the transitions here are excellently handled and I particularly loved the way the library was set up. With a view to ease of switching between two productions in rep, the walls were dressed with flimsy white curtains, but even these allowed for some nice atmospheric moments in shadow.
This was by no means a perfect show though. The direction tended towards the heavy-handed on a number of occasions: the appearance of Hertha after her death and the echoing scream for instance were unnecessary additions, and I struggled to see the point of the voiceovers. And some of the supporting characters could have been better written, no matter how well they were acted, they also needed to be better integrated into the fabric of the play itself.
Still, I thoroughly enjoyed Spring Storm, especially in light of having watched Beyond the Horizon so recently. On its own, it is a fascinating look at Williams’ early attempts to find his dramatic feet, nowhere near the finished work yet for sure, but there is much of interest here. I think I preferred Spring Storm slightly, but for all the commonalities, these are two different beasts. And watching the two plays in quick succession was a great pleasure with a real thrill in the sense of potential coming from both of these young playwrights.