King's Head Theatre, Islington (venue)
26 July 2019 (released)
27 July 2019
Southern Belles comprises two single-act plays by the great Tenneesee Williams which were never performed in his lifetime (and he died in 1983) due to the openly queer characters. In a beautifully evocative yet spare set design by Sarah Mercadé, the chiffon drapes and lush pink carpet underfoot convey the intimacy of the boudoir, for these are stories which can only take place behind closed doors.
The first play, Something Unspoken, introduces Cornelia and Grace. Cornelia (a superb Annabel Leventon) chairs the Daughters of the Confederacy Club and attends the right Baptist Church, as she proudly informs us. Grace (Fiona Marr) is her secretary and companion. On the fifteenth anniversary of Grace’s service to her, Cornelia is waiting to hear whether she has been re-elected to lead the Confederacy Club. As the play unfolds, we learn there are many unspoken things between the dressing gown-clad pair, and the characters are kept on the brink of revelation, teetering forwards and then interrupted by the telephone, by each other and by themselves. Both performances are fantastically nuanced, and it’s never entirely clear whether speaking of those things would be a good thing.
‘And Tell Sad Stories of the Death of Queens’, the second play, stars an exceptional Luke Mullins in a standout performance as an interior decorator who brings home Karl (George Fletcher), a sailor he has been watching in ‘the bars’. Once home, he transforms into Candy, the heartbreakingly fragile alter ego he uses to obtain love. ‘I’m terribly lonely,’ she cries at one point. The play never confirms who both characters really are: is Karl gay, or merely opportunistic? Is Candy genuinely transvestite or was she groomed by her ‘sponsor’, who instigated Candy’s creation and after 17 years, has abandoned her at 35 for a younger partner? There are only two certainties: Candy’s yearning for connection, and Karl’s dangerous masculinity. The action builds to a climax we can see coming with horrible inevitability. “The country without queens would be absolutely barbaric” Candy tells us, but later painfully acknowledges “The earth destroys her crooked child”.
This is a magical evening of theatre I can’t recommend highly enough.
Until 24 August at the King’s Head Theatre, Islington.