Tennessee Williams’ little-known gem, Confessional, is brought to the Southwark Playhouse by Tramp after a successful run in Edinburgh 2015. Set in a down-and-out pub in Southend, this semi-immersive production attempts to engage the audience from the off, encouraging them to make use of the functioning bar within the space before and throughout the show, sitting us at the dingy tables and promoting small talk with strangers. What follows feels like a ‘typical’ night in this kind of place; there is the gobby drunk, the sleazy bloke, the gay guys just coming in for a quiet one, the weepy lass in the corner. These characters are larger than life, yet they are also real; I’ve been to pubs where these people exist, who make a nuisance of themselves, yet are so much part of the furniture no one can be bothered to ask them to leave. It’s just who they are. It’s what they do.
So with Confessional; there is much going on, but at the same time, nothing really happens. It’s not so much the plot that drives this 90-minute piece (there isn’t a particular plot) – it’s the people. And these people are both abhorrent and endearing. Each trying to crack on, to get what they want, and to make sense of their lives, which for most seem to be devoid of any meaning at all. Leona, played with a startling brashness and confidence by Lizzie Stanton, is a beautician living in a trailer. She is ‘celebrating’ (or bemoaning?) the death day of her brother, trying to pick a fight with – well, everyone – and is horribly drunk. Is she the ‘main character’ in this play? She certainly speaks the most; I found her lengthy introspection and odd descriptions as she listens to violin concertos on the jukebox very moving. Similarly, the landlord Monk, for all his easy banter, is also (in Raymond Bethley’s gloriously understated performance) endearing, quiet, and full of sadness.
Who are these people? Perhaps we will never really know. They each possess secrets, deficiencies, prejudice. It is no small thing that homosexuality is discussed and presented openly in Confessional. At the time of writing (1970s) it was brave for Williams, ground-breaking even, to put gay characters in his plays.
Now of course, homosexuality is not just ‘tolerated’, it is accepted – embraced, even. In the main. The play’s programme contains tenuous links to Brexit and Bigotry, which director Jack Silver claims makes this play relevant in 21 st century Britain. Maybe it is. But it’s not the issues here that grip you. As I’ve said, it’s the people. The sadness pervading their lives. The nihilistic pointlessness of it all.
The mini-betrayals, the desires, the futility. It is compelling, achingly beautiful in its ugliness. On a gorgeous set designed by Justin Williams, and with an ethos of freedom for the actors (‘everything is improvised except the words’), Confessional will not be for everyone. But on the night I saw it, it was definitely for me. And I have a sneaky suspicion it will be for you, too.
Review by Amy Stow
Share a drink with a group of drunken regulars and watch their lives implode. Tramp’s innovative, semi-immersive production reimagines Tennessee Williams’s play, Confessional, in a run-down British seaside bar in Southend, frequented by life’s flotsam and jetsam.
Join the regulars in Monk’s bar over the course of a furious and fun evening, as a pair of strangers enter their world and all hell breaks loose. It’s a rollercoaster in real time through dashed dreams, delusional despair, and lost opportunities.
Director Jack Silver
Set Designer Justin Williams
Produced by Remy Blumenfeld
Cast: Lizzie Stanton, Rob Ostlere, Gavin Brocker, Raymond Bethley, Timothy Harker, Simone Somers-Yeates, AF McLoughlin, Jack Archer and Alex Kiffin.
by Tennessee Williams
77-85 Newington Causeway
London SE1 6BD
Box Office: 020 7407 0234
5th to 29th October 2016