Orpheus Descending

Thursday, 29 June, 2000

The story, set in the Deep South, concerns a lonely shopkeeper's wife, 'Lady', who is condemned to a loveless marriage and a life looking after a dusty old store while her husband is dying of cancer upstairs. However, her life is to change when a young handsome man, 'Val', comes to town looking for a job.

This play has all the Williams' trademarks, set in the Deep South with sexual tensions and a strange set of people with tormented souls in a town full of bigotry and intolerance. Yes, we have seen this scenario so many times and of course anyone who loves this genre of play will love this, particularly as it is so splendidly produced.

Helen Mirren, is magnificent, as 'Lady', a love-starved woman entrapped in a hell marriage after the death of her father at the hands of a gang of people who burnt down his wine business. She expresses the pain of Lady with absolute surety. She is complimented perfectly by Stuart Townsend, as 'Val', the mysterious stranger with a snakeskin coat and guitar who has arrived in town looking for a new start and a new direction in life. The rest of the cast are adequate, although some are less convincing than others, but this does not matter too much because this is the 'Mirren & Townsend' show.

This drama, which lasts nearly 3 hours, is very absorbing as you become gripped by the motives of Lady and Val. What are they both searching for? Is Val, just out to get what he can or has he really given up his old lifestyle of lying and cheating? And what about Val? Is it lust that is attracting her to Val or is there a deeper need? All these questions are answered in an ending, like most Tennessee Williams's plays, that is not particularly happy, but are very thought provoking!

Of the reviews in so far the play has received good notices from the popular press…. KATE BASSETT for THE DAILY TELEGRAPH says, "Mirren, who worked with Hytner on the film The Madness of King George (1994), does her director proud again. " She goes on to say, "Mirren does have a few histrionic moments, and Townsend needs to relax into his role. But he has handsome, dark-eyed magnetism and mixes his character's surly arrogance and predatory slouch with flashes of boyish tenderness." BENEDICT NIGHTINGALE says it is an "excellent revival." He goes on to say, "There are several impressive performances, among them Saskia Reeves's scattily rebellious Carol, Julia Swift as one of Williams's visionaries, a primitive artist floundering in the Deep South. But Stuart Townsend's Val,….is rather special too. " NICHOLAS DE JONGH for THE EVENING STANDARD says, "Williams' eerie poetic diction and engendering of high emotion prove rare theatrical pleasures." ALASTAIR MACAULAY for the FINANCIAL TIMES says, "Orpheus descends into mere theatrics." HE goes on to say , Will we one day see a staging of this remarkable play that fully brings off all its challenges? "

"Orpheus Descending", is a pulsating drama that I can definitely recommend. Although, if you do not normally like Tennessee Williams's plays then you will not like this!

(Darren Dalglish)

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