Southwark Playhouse, London – until 29 October 2016
Confessional by Tennessee Williams written in 1970, has never been performed in London. It enjoyed a successful run at Edinburgh fringe this year, and then thankfully someone had the foresight to transfer it to Southwark Playhouse, where new and innovative theatre has a trusty home. The concept for the staging is ingenious, set in a public bar, you are not given a programme until you leave. The premise being that you have no idea if the person you are sat next too, has a role or not.
This earthy and edgy production keeps you on your toes, as people often rise to their feet and go and order drinks at the bar and interaction between the cast and the regular audience members is frequent.
I’ve known the director, Jack Silver for a little while now and we’d had a conversation about this plays leading actress whom the action is centred around – Lizzie Stanton. Silver described Stanton to me “as good as Meryl Streep” so I was intrigued to see if this huge compliment really had any substance? My goodness, all I can say is what an incredible find. Stanton is every ounce, as completely captivating as described. Her portrayal as drunk beautician Leona, is so mesmerising and believable that you become absorbed with the goings-on in the bar.
It is, as the synopsis described, like being in the “Queen Vic” whilst they are recording Eastenders. Described as a “mean drunk” by barman Monk (Raymond Bethley) Stanton’s powerful and ballsy performance had every element of an award-winning role sewn up, as you lurched from dislike, to empathy, humour and worry for her. The desolation of her trailer park life, moving on whenever her true feelings were exposed, always seemingly running away but in essence just needing to be loved. Leona (Stanton) reminded me of early days Bianca from Eastenders and Stanton certainly had the angsty fiery performance, with a heart of gold, down to a tee.
The boyfriend, Bill McCorkle played by Gavin Brocker gave the role that charming love-rat feel. However what was refreshing was that there was no subterfuge, he did not shy away or pretend to be something he isn’t. He very clearly knew what he was and indulged the audience to his proud peacock alluring performance.
Photo by SIMON ANNAND
Other noteworthy mentions go to Simone Somers-Yeates as Violet whose mental instability was thoughtfully portrayed and gave her character the vulnerability that it needed. Very troubled and with issues of cleanliness or lack of, it would seem, all she needed was the right person to nurture her. Is barman Monk the one to do it? It would seem a possibility, at least it will, if she takes that shower? Bar chef Steve (Rob Ostlere) was very much an onlooker and everybody’s mate trying to diffuse the explosive situation, strong acting skills as expected were displayed. The other rounded characterisation came from Doc (Abi McLoughlin) whose subtle portrayal as the disturbed Doctor, who clearly should not be practicing, but does she need to be exposed or supported? You’ll have to go and see and make up your own mind.
Photo by SIMON ANNAND
The dialogue at times seemed almost Shakespearean, but this along with small bar space setting added to the tension. I’d encourage you to go into the auditorium ahead of its start time, so that you can wallow in its authenticity, it’ll add to your enjoyment but keep your eyes peeled as the show really starts from then. The director, Jack Silver has clearly given the actors the freedom to fully explore their characters and has worked heavily on their interactions with each other and the audience, so believable are their performances. Silver has done an outstanding job and is definitely one to watch for the future.
To summarise, I left this show feeling ever so slightly exhausted from seeing such a powerful and tremendous cast giving a punchy, edgy and absorbing performance.
In my opinion Confessional is a must-see for this Autumn season.
Confessional – Southwark Playhouse
★★★★★ Autumn’s Must-See