European premiere for Williams' 'autobiography'

Louise Jury,Arts Correspondent
Tuesday 16 January 2007 01:00
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A work by Tennessee Williams that he refused to have performed during his lifetime because of its autobiographical homosexual content is to receive its European premiere.

The play, And Tell Sad Stories of the Death of Queens, is one of 13 published for the first time last year, 23 years after the playwright's death, aged 71. It will be presented in London in March with two other short works from the collection.

When they were released from the archives, there was a rush to secure the rights, according to sources close to the production. At least one British theatre which was keen to present all 10 was refused permission.

But Tom Erhardt, the representative of the Williams estate in the UK, has taken a punt on Anna Ledwich, 30, a director who has previously worked on the fringe including Theatre 503 in London.

She made contact to try to win the rights as soon as she read the works last year and persuaded the agents to back her, despite her inexperience.

"I was immediately struck by their perfect, minute quality," she said. "They're such large plays packed into six pages, some of them, or 10 pages. I sent a rather brazen, or naïve, e-mail to the agent saying I liked them very much and were the rights available."

And Tell Sad Stories of the Death of Queens is Williams' most defiantly gay play and in striking contrast to most of his better-known work where his sexuality is referred to more obliquely.

Candy Delaney, the central character, is a gay transvestite in New Orleans' French Quarter whose long-term love has abandoned him for a younger lover. His choice of a replacement is a volatile and dangerous young sailor.

Williams has been criticised for his reticence over sexuality, but Ledwich said: "This is not at all closeted in its meaning or intent. It's amazingly contemporary and modern. It's not particularly outrageous by our standards but it's very defiant."

The other works with which it will be presented under the banner "Lovely and Misfit" are Mister Paradise and Summer at the Lake. Mister Paradise, which was probably written at about the time of the writer's first visit to New Orleans in 1939, is the story of a young female college student who is seeking Mr Paradise, the author of a book of poetry she has found propping up a table in an antiques shop.

In the title character, Williams anticipated his own ambivalence towards fame. "There is a sense of what fame will do to him," Ledwich said. Summer at the Lake, which was possibly written when Williams was at university, shows a man dealing with his family relationships, adulthood and emerging sexuality. There is a mother-son conflict similar to that in his play The Glass Menagerie, which will be running in the West End at the same time as "Lovely and Misfit".

Tennessee Williams was born Thomas Lanier Williams III in 1911 and was given the name Tennessee by college friends because of his southern accent.

He was a prolific writer and the works published last year were among masses of one-act plays in his archives. These three works were all written or started in the 1930s before the playwright became lauded for plays such A Streetcar Named Desire and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. "Lovely and Misfit" runs at Trafalgar Studio 2 from 6 to 31 March.

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