First performance of the play that was too hot to handle

FIRST NIGHT Not About Nightingales National Theatre, London

A PIECE of 20th century theatre history took place last night as the National Theatre presented the world premiere of a Tennessee Williams play - a work which has never been seen nor even read until now, writes David Lister.

The late author of such emotionally charged classics as A Streetcar Named Desire and Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, who died in 1983, is thought to have written the piece when he was 26, six years before making his name with The Glass Menagerie.

Not About Nightingales was never produced, and does not appear in any of the author's collected works. It was brought to light by Vanessa Redgrave, who read a reference to it in a biography, persuaded the Williams estate to release the manuscript and then approached National Theatre artistic director Trevor Nunn to stage it in a co-production with her own company.

Nunn's staging opened last night in the National's small studio theatre, the Cottesloe.

Set in a men's prison, the play partly concerns homosexual relationships - the probable reason why American publishers and theatre managements were wary.

Trevor Nunn, who directed last night's world premiere, 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.

Nunn has recruited an Anglo-American cast in which Irish actor Finbar Lynch stars as the hero, Canary Jim, opposite American Sherri Parker Lee and Corin Redgrave, Vanessa's brother, as the prison warden.

Vanessa Redgrave came across a reference to the play in a new biography about the young Tennessee Williams. She became intrigued and went to New York to urge Williams's long time friend, Maria St Juste, who managed his estate, to release the manuscript.

Maria St Juste, who has since died, had never released the play because she felt that if Williams had not released it in his lifetime he must have had his reasons.

However, Ms Redgrave and she had been friends for some time and she agreed to release it to her. The annotated typescript was found among the late playwright's papers, and Ms Redgrave secured the rights for its performance.

The one misfortune for her was that the main female part is a 19-year- old secretary, which she is too old to play. The one middle-aged woman in the play appears only for a brief scene. Nevertheless, she was keen to play that role, until Trevor Nunn told her it would be inappropriate for her to take such a small role.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Women protest at the rape and murder of Jyoti Singh
tvReview: It's a tough watch, but the details of the brutal gang rape and murder of medical student need to be shared if we want to strive for global gender equality
Life and Style
Living for the moment: Julianne Moore playing Alzheimer’s sufferer Alice
health
News
people
Voices
A propaganda video shows Isis forces near Tikrit
voicesAdam Walker: The Koran has violent passages, but it also has others that explicitly tells us how to interpret them
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
people
Life and Style
love + sex
Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Sport
Ashley Young celebrates the winner for Manchester United against Newcastle
footballNewcastle 0 Man United 1: Last minute strike seals precious victory
Life and Style
Tikka Masala has been overtaken by Jalfrezi as the nation's most popular curry
food + drink
News
Benjamin Netanyahu and his cartoon bomb – the Israeli PM shows his ‘evidence’
people
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
80s trailblazer: comedian Tracey Ullman
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Stephen Tompkinson is back as DCI Banks
tvReview: Episode one of the new series played it safe, but at least this drama has a winning formula
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Jeffrey Archer holds up a copy of 'Kane and Abel', a book he says was ripped-off by Bollywood
books
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

Recruitment Genius: General Processor

£7 per hour: Recruitment Genius: A vacancy has arisen for a General Processor ...

Recruitment Genius: Outbound Sales Executive - B2B

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A great opportunity has arisen ...

Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Associate

£14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Full time and Part time positio...

Ashdown Group: IT Manager - Salesforce / Reports / CRM - North London - NfP

£45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and reputable Not for Profit o...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot