Southwark Playhouse Until 29th October
Confessional by Tennessee Williams written in 1970, has never been performed in London. It enjoyed a successful run at Edinburgh fringe this year, and then thankfully someone had the foresight to transfer it to Southwark Playhouse, where new and innovative theatre has a trusty home. The concept for the staging is ingenious, set in a public bar, you are not given a programme until you leave. The premise being that you have no idea if the person you are sat next too, has a role or not.
You can share a drink with a group of shameless lowlifes and watch their lives implode…
Tramp’s innovative, semi-immersive production reimagined Tennessee Williams’ little known play, Confessional, in “Monk’s Bar”, a run-down British seaside bar on the Essex coast, frequented by life’s flotsam and jetsam. The audience are seated in the pub with the locals while the action kicks off around them.
Join the bar’s regulars over the course of one furious and fun evening, as a pair of strangers enters their world – and all hell breaks loose.
The action focuses around Leona Dawson, (Lizzie Stanton) a caravan park beautician who discovers her layabout boyfriend (Gavin Brocker) has been cheating on her with her mentally ill best friend (Simone Somers-Yeates). To add insult to injury, it’s also the anniversary of her younger brother’s death. With alcohol-fuelled emotions already running high, tensions increases when a pair of gay men come into the bar, one of whom reminds Leona of her dead brother, who was also gay. As Leona gets drunker she alternates between ranting at the regulars, bragging about her self-sufficiency and her itinerant life in a caravan, and listening to the two strangers tell stories about the experience of being homosexual – something she knows will irritate her homophobic friends. It’s like an episode of EastEnders, written by Tennessee Williams!
This earthy and edgy production, keeps you on your toes, as people often rise to their feet and go an order their drinks at the bar and interaction between the cast and the regular audience members is frequent.
I’ve known the director, Jack Silver for a little while now and we’d had a conversation about this plays leading actress whom the action is centred around – Lizzie Stanton. Silver described Stanton to me “as good as Meryl Streep” so I was intrigued to see if this huge compliment really had any substance? My goodness, all I can say is what an incredible find. Stanton is every ounce, as completely captivating as described. Her portrayal as drunk beautician Leona, is so mesmerising and believable that you become absorbed with the goings-on in the bar. It is, as the synopsis described like being in the “Queen Vic” whilst they are recording Eastenders. Described as a “mean drunk” by barman Monk (Raymond Bethley) Stanton’s powerful and ballsy performance had every element of an award-winning role sewn up, as you lurched from dislike, to empathy, humour and worry for her. The desolation of her trailer park life, moving on whenever her true feelings were exposed, always seemingly running away but in essence just needing to be loved. Leona (Stanton) reminded me of early days Bianca from Eastenders and Stanton certainly had the angsty fiery performance, with a heart of gold, down to a tee.
The boyfriend, Bill McCorkle played by Gavin Brocker gave the role that charming love-rat feel. However what was refreshing was that there was no subterfuge, he did not shy away or pretend to be something he isn’t. He very clearly knew what he was and indulged the audience to his proud peacock alluring performance.
Other noteworthy mentions go to Simone Somers-Yeates as Violet whose mental instability was thoughtfully portrayed and gave her character the vulnerability that it needed. Very troubled and with issues of cleanliness or lack of, it would seem, all she needed was the right person to nurture her. Is barman Monk the one to do it? It would seem a possibility, at least it will, if she takes that shower? Bar chef Steve (Rob Ostlere) was very much an onlooker and everybody’s mate trying to diffuse the explosive situation, strong acting skills as expected were displayed. The other rounded characterisation came from Doc (Abi McLoughlin) whose subtle portrayal as the disturbed Doctor, who clearly should not be practicing, but does she need to be exposed or supported? You’ll have to go and see and make up your own mind.
The dialogue at times seemed almost Shakespearean, but this along with small bar space setting added to the tension. I’d encourage you to go into the auditorium ahead of its start time, so that you can wallow in its authenticity, it’ll add to your enjoyment but keep your eyes peeled as the show really starts from then. The director, Jack Silver has clearly given the actors the freedom to fully explore their characters and has worked heavily on their interactions with each other and the audience, so believable are their performances. Silver has done an outstanding job and is definitely one to watch for the future.
To summarise, I left this show feeling ever so slightly exhausted from seeing such a powerful and tremendous cast giving a punchy, edgy and absorbing performance.
In my opinion Confessional is a must-see for this Autumn season.
Confessional – Southwark Playhouse
★★★★★ Autumn’s Must-See