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Review: A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur (Print Room)

Tennessee Williams' late play is revived at the Notting Hill venue

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
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Tennessee Williams' late, little-performed play takes place in a tiny flat in St Louis in the 1930s, on a sweltering Sunday afternoon. Michael Oakley's revival production at the Print Room in Notting Hill happened to open on a day with much the same climate. It was absolutely boiling. As the characters talked tantalisingly about heading out on a picnic by the cool breeze of the lake at Creve Coeur Park, sweat trickled down the audience's backs and programmes quietly fanned the air from the stalls.

It was suffocating and uncomfortable, which, incidentally, is a little like life for the characters in A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur. Civics teacher Dorothea and the good-hearted Bodey are roommates in a down-at-heel flat. Dorothea – who has a touch of Blanche DuBois about her – is somewhat grandiloquent and slightly lazy, and believes her recently acquired beau is about to turn up to whisk her off her feet. The middle-aged Bodey fears the truth – that Dorothea's squeeze has no such intention – and she wants her friend to instead get together with her cigar-smoking, booze-swigging twin brother Buddy.

The Sunday of the play starts in the morning, as Dorothea begins her exercises and Bodey fries chicken for their picnic. Though they are as different as they could be, there's a jovial warmth between the two women and their relationship is homely and easy. This happy balance is tipped by the arrival of the prickly, pompous Helena, another teacher (who is shocked by the chintzy apartment) who wants Dorothea to move to a more expensive flat with her, in a fashionable part of town. Later still, the recently bereaved German woman from the upstairs flat – who is inexplicably catatonic – arrives to mix up the dynamic further.

Four unattached women bouncing off the walls in a sad city flat. You can see Williams' recurring themes – dreams of transcending a current life, escaping smothering roots, faded and fading women, loneliness – coming through. But A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur is far less delicate than some of his earlier works. The situation feels heavy-handed and the characters touch on caricature. There's humour in the first half that feels misplaced, too: Williams pokes too much fun at these unhappy ladies. There are glimpses of poetry in one or two of the speeches, but not many.

It's also a little long and though Oakley's strong production is blessed with some very fine performances – Debbie Chanzen is superb as Bodey, while Hermione Gulliford is beautifully catty as Helena – the show drags. Much time is spent on arguments between Bodey and Helena and though it has two acts, it would have worked just fine with one. It's intriguing, to see a work so rarely performed, but it seems there is a reason or two why it's so often left on the shelf.

A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur runs at the Print Room until 7 October.

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