Kingdom of Earth, Print Room, London
Thursday 05 May 2011
"Baby, you got a mother complex and I'm gonna make you forget it," the vivacious Myrtle, with a can-do waggle of her lime-green thighs, informs her droopy husband of two days in Lucy Bailey's brilliant, blackly wacky and sometimes tenderly hilarious revival of this Tennessee Williams rarity from 1967. Alas, Myrtle would have about as much luck weaning Norman Bates off his mother as reorient the ailing, secretly TB-ridden and maternally fixated Lot who has inherited the piss-elegant, antique-filled home where mummy and he used to preen preciously as a two-person-band against the rednecks endemic in this district of the Mississippi Delta.
These brutes allegedly include his half-brother, the "darky complected" Chicken, whose own mother was mixed-race and who is resentfully allowed to run the ancestral farm for no more money or respect than would be accorded a hired hand. He has extracted from Lot, though, a deal whereby he will come into possession of farm and land in the event of the latter's death. It is gradually borne in on the dazzled then rattled Myrtle that she has been tricked into matrimony to thwart Chicken's ambitions.
This has been a funny old centenary year for Tennessee Williams – largely ignored in Britain except for a handful of stunning unveilings and rarities. The biscuit was taken when the Cock Tavern Theatre found itself axed on health and safety grounds after only three performances of Gene David Kirk's splendid world premiere of Williams's A Cavalier for Milady. Happily, the production reopens at Jermyn Street Theatre in June. Now Bailey's pitch-perfect account of Kingdom of Earth establishes that this play offers not just a calculatedly caricatured recycling of the triangle in Streetcar. More potently, and not just in the mythic sibling rivalry at its centre, it is prophetic of what Sam Shepard would go on to do, in its instinct for how ineluctably Americana declines towards kitsch and its lightly borne indignation at the horror of racism. Joseph Drake is superb as the effete, runty, transvestite Lot, a would-be aesthete struggling with his inner Norman Bates, while Fiona Glascott and David Sturzaker beautifully bring out the warmth as well as the drolly klutzy raunchiness in the other steamily sparring duo.
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