Review: VIEUX CARRE by Tennessee Williams

A rare classic performed with real finesse

By Tania Herbert

Fortyfivedownstairs must be one of the more atmospheric venue spaces in Melbourne, and the conversion into a seedy New Orleans rooming house for ITCH Production’s Vieux Carré was an impressive use of space. Add the live blues artists to the side of the stage for score, and the stage is set for a fully immersive theatrical experience.

In the Midsumma festival of extremes, subtlety is the new black, and the piece still manages to capture a feeling of controversy by running a delicious line between sensuality and crudity.

Photo by Julian Dolman

Noted as Tennessee Williams’ most autobiographical coming-of-age piece, Vieux Carré follows the awkward character of “Writer” who ends up destitute in the rooming house. Who doesn’t love the tried-and-true Williams model of fast-paced humour descending into heart-wrenching angst? – and despite the obscurity of the play, this is Williams at his best.

The quiet entry of Thomas Blackburne as the everyman “Writer” captured the audience from the opening moment, and his beautiful albeit self-conscious presence plays in contrast to the dramatic and colourful individuals around them who find commonality in their individual tales of loneliness.

For an opening night, this was an astonishingly polished performance, and there was a veteran command of the stage by all performers without exception. The immaculate timing and flawless build-up of intensity plays sentiment to the skill of director Alice Bishop, and her tale in the program of having visited New Orleans in preparation for the played out in the authentic feel.

While difficult to single an individual in such an impressive ensemble, particular highlights included the gut wrenching despair of Stephen Whittaker’s performance, Samantha Murray’s exceptional ability to spout a running monologue without breath and Kelly’s Nash’s wonderful range throughout the play.

Vieux Carré is a little piece of life in a box. Not for the dramatically faint-hearted, ITCH Productions have done true credit to Williams and to Midsumma. Highly recommended.

Venue: fortyfivedownstairs, 45 Flinders Lane

Dates: 17th Jan – 3rd Feb, 2013

Tickets: $40 full, $35 conc, $35 groups 6+

Bookings: www.midsumma.org.au or www.fortyfivedownstairs.com

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