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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

at the The Young Vic

By Clive Hirschhorn

  Flora Spencer-Longhurst,Portia and Theo Stevenson/PH: Keith Pattison

It is hardly surprising that Carson McCullers and Tennessee Williams had such an affinity with one another. Apart from their Southern backgrounds, both were broken butterflies whose shared understanding of loneliness and longing made them soul-mates as well as work-mates.

While Williams was writing Summer and Smoke , she was turning her acclaimed novella, The Member of the Wedding into a play. They laboured in tandem, she at one end of a large table, he at the other.

Apart from a poetic understanding of the human condition, what their writing also had in common was a fragility and an evanescence that breaks your heart.

Not unlike The Glass Menagerie in its mood and atmosphere, The Member of the Wedding, set in 1945, taps into adolescent angst as few plays before and after it have done. It centers around the growing pains of a gawky 12 year-old tomboy called Frankie Addams, who, when we first meet her, appears to be in a permanent state of agitation and restlessness.

Unpopular among her contemporaries, and confined to spending most of her time at home with her seven-year old cousin John Henry and the family's black maid Berenice, she focuses her attention on the imminent marriage of her brother Jarvis to his girlfriend Janice, whom she is seriously hoping to accompany on their honeymoon.

Or, as she puts it in the line that ends the first act, I love the two of them so much because they are the 'we' of me.

Like The Glass Menagerie , the play requires a delicacy of touch to distill its wistfulness and its poetry. And just like Laura's fragile animal collection, if it is roughly treated it will shatter to smithereens.

Fortunately, director Matthew Dunster's sensitive, leisurely approach to the piece gives it the sensitivity it requires, and although there are moments when Flora Spencer-Longhurst as Frankie over-energizes the role and loses some of the dialogue by pitching her voice too high, she nevertheless manages to convey Frankie's pre-teen torment and the desperate need she feels to belong.

If Frankie provides the play with its sense of agitation and restlessness, it is the maid Berenice who , with her innate wisdom and humanity, gives it it's stillness and center of gravity. The role was originally created by the great Ethel Waters whose moving performance has been captured on film, together with those of her co-stars Julie Harris as Frankie and Brandon de Wilde as John Henry.

Waters's Berenice is a hard act to follow - but the American actress known simply as Portia endows it with such humanity and dignity that it becomes the mainstay of the production. Her final scene will break your heart - just as McCullers intended. Three youngsters alternate the role of John Henry. At the performance I attended, the kid playing him was physically ideal and perfect in every gesture. Unfortunately, when he opened his mouth most of his dialogue was indeciperhable.

Though the rest of the roles, with the exception of Berenice's angry foster brother Honey (John Macmillan ) are pretty two dimensional, the cast approach them with admirable belief and conviction.

As a play The Member of the Wedding hardly qualifies as well-made. The last half hour, as if to make up for the absence of narrative in the early scenes packs about as much unexpected incident as it can comfortably contain, prompting Frankie to remark For the first time I realize the world is certainly - a sudden place.

Structural defects<


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