Interior: Panic/Portrait of a Madonna
“I always start off like this,” clarifies Leonie Scott-Matthews proudly, welcoming us newcomers into the enclave she has governed for 45 years. The 60-seat Pentameters Theatre feels like a cross between a harem and a Victorian parlour, owing to the upright piano lined with photographs and cuttings.
Scott-Matthews has assembled an illustrious family in her years of producing fringe theatre. While all this serves to raise our expectations for innovative direction and performances in the two plays (one half of the double-bill has never before been performed in England), the décor also ties the plays to the Pentameters’ production 30 years previously, following the death of Tennessee Williams.
Sebastien Blanc directs Interior: Panic, evidence of Williams’ aggregate method of writing, as it contains an early imprint of Blanche Dubois. Both he and Jaymie Addicott (as Blanche) are advocates of the Meisner acting technique, which produces ‘moments’ of emotion in the text, but leaves us nervous when the rapport between the actor and her accent, her text, or another character slips.
Addicott is immensely recognisable as Blanche, and often terrifying to watch, wearing a lot of things on her sleeve. But it’s only in her speeches that the piece feels sustained by Williams’ snaking language; the less naturalistic elements most successful of all. The same is true for Victoria Kempton, whose delivery her account of walking down a row of “scorching porches” picks up on the rhymes and rhythms that define her.
Seamus Newham is a much-needed presence in Portrait of a Madonna, which he also directs, adding weight to the jejune combination of psychosis, shyness and adolescent boredom that the other characters represent. That is not to disparage Dermot Dolan and Liam Nooney, who effectively fiddle with Miss Lucrecia Collins, the one gutting her life with his indifference and the other wrestling with the guilt of the do-gooder.
These firecrackers lack the pace and the TNT that the Pentameters advertises – at times they celebrate the cycles of insanity we have seen in other Williams plays, without connecting with the language that makes them beat. But I expect they will pick up speed over the course of the run.