Prior to this European premiere performance of Canadian writer Daniel MacIvor's Tennessee Williams homage, the house manager informed us that Matthew Marsh – the actor playing 'The Playwright', aka Williams in all but name – was a late replacement and had only had the script since April 17.
If that was meant to excuse Marsh there really was no need: maybe he's been practising a flamboyant Mississippi drawl for years now, maybe he's just a fast learner, but this was a faultless performance. He is utterly compelling as a fading titan now cowering behind his appetites, glugging bourbon, popping pills, tooting coke and fucking rent boys in the hope that living in the now will somehow defer the future and yet another critical reckoning.
It is November 1980 and one of his plays is about to open in Vancouver to stinging reviews. But right now The Playwright is getting trashed in his hotel with his buttoned-up assistant (Russell Bentley) and a hot young rent boy (Toby Wharton) whose looks remind him of Warren Beatty.
Inspired by a real episode in Williams's life (the Vancouver flop was 'The Red Devil Battery Sign'), MacIvor's text is so-so: the dialogue dances and sparkles piquantly, but as a social drama it verges on the lightweight, with nothing on the biblical intensity of Williams's best work.
Fortunately Ché Walker's finely weighted production is all about the performances. Marsh is the main event, but Bentley and Wharton offer invaluable support; together their chemistry is palpable, euphoria, lust and despair flickering between them and electrifying the purgatorial hotel room.
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