Wild at Heart, Pentameters Theatre

Pentameters Theatre, tucked above a Hampstead gastropub, feels more like a community theatre than a professional fringe theatre. Many of the audience know each other, and the theatre staff feel like they are an intrinsic part of the building. AD Leonie Scott-Matthews introduces the show; she states to the mostly local audience that Tennessee Williams’ plays are the first to sell out when she announces a new season. Williams wrote over 70 short plays as well as the full-length scripts that established him as a writer, so if he’s so popular with her audiences these are a fantastic resource to tap. Rarely staged, many of them offer his trademark poetic language and characters that capture the seedy underbelly of their time and place. 

Wild at Heart is a collection of four of them spanning states and decades, but they all tap into similar moments of despair. The performances are mixed as are the directorial choices, but its a great opportunity to see some lesser-known works.

The four scripts are on similar quality, through Mr Paradise and Hello From Bertha have the more interesting storylines. Even so, not a lot happens in these playlets. All of the characters are barely on the fringes of society, isolated and lost. Hopelessness hangs over the dingy set and misery permeates every nook and cranny. It’s a shame that the performances aren’t better – inconsistent accents and generic heightened realism lack emotional truth and feel hollow. 

Director Seamus Newham uses the wide but shallow space effectively, though there is some dubiously mimed door and window opening on the fourth wall. The pace across the four plays is largely unvarying, but he has a decent sense for Williams’ rhythm.

Williams provides a little window into his world through these short plays, and even though there isn’t the opportunity for depth of character or thematic exploration, they are an insightful barometer of those on the margins of American society in the 30s, 40s and 50s. Even though they could be handled better, it’s a lovely opportunity to experience his lesser-known work.

Wild at Heart is now closed.

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