Confessional, Southwark Playhouse

How does it feel to have never had something beautiful in your life?

In this reimagining of the Tennessee Williams’ one-act that later becomes the more fully-formed Small Craft Warnings, the flotsam and jetsam of a remote Californian coastal town are relocated to the Thames estuary. The ‘immersive’ staging spreads the actors amongst sections of the audience in Monk’s Bar, making the characters’ volatility all the more threatening to those in the midst of their fighting and fucking. But not a lot happens in this extended character study at a forgotten edge of the world. Tense, emotive performances and pretty language help hide the existential-ish script, but Williams’ lonely poetry leaves a lingering emptiness. 

Lizzie Stanton as the attention seeking, volatile Leona leads the cast of disparate and desperate characters. Stanton has a ferocious, watchable energy that dictates a sensitive and varied pace. It’s a shame Williams doesn’t grant her a role with more depth than poetic monologuing on her transient existence searching for the world’s elusive beauty. She is ably foiled by her lazy, townie live-in lover (Gavin Brocker) and weepy, nymphomaniac Violet (Simone Somers-Yeates). 

Though the characters translate rather well despite the decades and distance that separate them from the original, the vocabulary sits uncomfortably in their mouths. There are numerous giveaways that the text is American, and a dated one at that. It’s great that the concept grants this contemporary Essex seaside town the words to honestly and thoroughly express themselves, but the choice is unrealistic and initially confusing to the ear.

Director Jack Silver essentially stages in the round, with the audience tightly packed in. This disappointingly limits the actors’ use of space to designated paths – a shame what with their vivacity and heightened emotion. Justin Williams’ set is every inch the working men’s club or grotty housing estate pub to the point I instinctively check I’m not going to sit in any suspicious crumbs or liquids.

Williams’ characters are, without question, wonderful creations. But this one-act doesn’t live up to his masterpieces that balance characterisation with story. Watching someone drift through their life without purpose is only interesting for so long; watching half a dozen people carry on as such for over an hour pushes the limits of human sympathy.

Confessional runs through 29 October.

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