'Out Cry', Lyric Hammersmith, London W6 (0181-741 2311) from 22 Apr

THEATRE

"The best of his plays are as permanent as anything can be in the age of Kleenex": thus spake Gore Vidal, master of the tart remark, of his sometime friend Tennessee Williams, a writer of whom it is often said that he ran his career in reverse. After the tumultuous success of his New York debut The Glass Menagerie and the explosion created by A Streetcar Named Desire, the plays grew more and more baroque and the quality never met the quantity.

Actor and director Timothy Walker is firmly unconvinced by this argument, first promulgated by a fiercely homophobic American press in the 1960s. The criticism consisted of dark, covert mutterings about Williams's sterility (we all know what that means) or, later, open hostility to the endlessly spun tales of boys and the booze that the playwright told to any interviewer who would listen. It's true that most of the late plays are not unalloyed masterpieces and that in terms of tone and characterisation Williams obsessively drank from the same well as had inspired his greatest work, but for Walker, Out Cry remains a crucial, central work, written from a wealth of experience.

He discovered it 11 years ago and felt an immediate, strong affinity with its ambiguity and artistic aspirations. Written in 1967, it was originally entitled The Two Character Play, but Williams renamed and rewrote it five times over the next years for successive productions. "We're doing the fictional version which is much the best. In many ways, it's the ultimate Tennessee Williams play. At the age of 14 he discovered writing as a means of escaping from real life. Great theatre, however, exposes emotional reality, which is what Out Cry is directly about... but in an indirect way," he adds hastily.

Directing for Cheek By Jowl for the first time, Walker is having to face up to the strange business of being "not Declan Donnellan" (artistic director of CBJ), a bizarre position he can do nothing about. Not that he could be described as a theatrical parvenu, having played Hamlet for Donnellan, acted in six other Cheek by Jowl shows and assisted on Measure for Measure and The Duchess of Malfi.

His reasons for picking Out Cry are admirably clear. "It's a great play and nobody knows it." Tennessee Williams would approve. He described it as "My most beautiful play since Streetcar," adding, "It's the big one, close to the marrow of my being."

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