Buried treasure casts new light on Tennessee Williams

FIRST NIGHT: Not About Nightingales: National Theatre, London

A REMARKABLE piece of theatrical history was made last night with the world premiere of a Tennessee Williams play.

The work, written in 1938 when Williams, who died in 1983, was 26, has never been seen or even read until now.

After last night's breathtaking and coruscating production it is clear that his theatrical reputation will have to be re-evaluated.

For he must now be classed a social dramatist. This remarkable play was no piece of juvenilia, nor just a forerunner of his emotionally charged classics A Streetcar Named Desire and Cat On A Hot Tin Roof.

This was a searing social drama, based on a real prison riot, dealing graphically with inhumanity, cruelty, suffering, betrayal and tenderness.

Williams never wrote anything with such direct social impact again, and one can speculate now that the reason it was never produced or published is because its harrowing portrayal of prison conditions would have caused political chaos in America.

Amazingly contemporary in feel, it even brought to mind the recent Hollywood prison movie The Shawshank Redemption. But this was Tennessee Williams and of course it had many layers - memories aroused by music, lyrical and poetic language and characters who will yet become parts that every actor yearns to play.

The cold, ruthless, lecherous warden played memorably by Corin Redgrave is one. The self-taught prison trustee brilliantly and movingly portrayed by Finbar Lynch, as walls within him break down and he falls in love with the warden's secretary played by Sherri Parker Lee.

There is tangible sexual tension there, but perhaps the most vivid image of the night is the punishment scene with prisoners losing their sanity and in some cases their lives locked in a Turkish bath. A vivid and disturbing image that has been denied to us for 60 years.

Trevor Nunn, who directed last night's performance, said he had found the work "harrowing". It has, he said, "elements of the style which you would associate with Tennessee Williams, but is not really like a Tennessee Williams play. It is about a young prisoner who has a poetic sense of himself and what he wants to achieve."

The play, which emerges as an impassioned plea for justice and humanity, was sparked off by a newspaper report of a prison riot in the Thirties in which four convicts were brutally murdered.

Enormous credit must go to Vanessa Redgrave who spent a year and a half tracking down this play. She had come across a reference to the play in a new biography about Williams and went to New York to persuade his long- time friend Maria St Juste, who managed his estate, to release the manuscript.

Redgrave said after last night's performance: "It's so contemporary, so powerful. It draws in on you. And it's still happening now."

She has indeed discovered a theatrical treasure.

News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
tvSeries celebrates 20th anniversary
News
news
Life and Style
Jack Cooksey goes for the grand unveiling - moments before dropping his new iPhone 6 on the floor
iphone launch
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't
tv

Liam Neeson's Downton dreams

Sport
Yaya Touré (left) and Bayern Munich’s Spanish defender Juan Bernat
football
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Sport
A 'Sir Alex Feguson' tattoo
football

Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear
tv

Thriller is set in the secret world of British espionage

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior BA - Motor and Home Insurance

£400 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: **URGENT CONTRACT ROLE**...

Tutor required for Level 3 Workskills

£6720 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Nottingham: Randstad Eduction are...

Primary Supply Teacher - Loughborough

£90 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Leicester: Are you a Teacher looking fo...

Primary General Cover Teachers

Negotiable: Randstad Education Leicester: Are you a Newly Qualified Teacher lo...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week