Royal Lyceum Theatre
4 stars ****
IF YOU’RE LOOKING FOR A RELAXED night at the theatre, don’t go to see the Wooster Group’s astonishing version of Tennessee Williams’s Vieux Carre, a show that demands almost as much of its audience as it does of its extraordinary six-strong cast. Written in 1939, when Williams was living in a battered rooming house in the old quarter of New Orleans, Vieux Carre is one of his earliest works, an apparently shapeless impressionistic drama about the strange cast of characters who live in the house. They range from lost New Yorker Jane Sparks, through the rapacious transvestite dying of tuberculosis next door, to our hero himself, a young, troubled gay writer working towards the point where he can capture the life of the building in words, battered out on his keyboard.
The Wooster Group’s version, directed by Elizabeth Le Compte, strips the material of picturesque period detail, setting it on a dark stage with a few bed-like platforms, and expressing the drama through a post-modern visual symphony of live action, framed video imagery on multiple small screens, and superb sound, both live and recorded. At the centre of the show is Ari Fliakos’s memorably quiet and subtle performance as the writer. And although the other characters constantly move through his space – providing scope for an outstanding performance from Kate Valk as Jane – we are left with a sense of having spent two arduous hours inside the writer’s complex, troubled and transforming mind; and also with an image of a society where people live on the very edge of destitution and death, and sometimes simply vanish, into the dark.
Until 24 August
EIF p. 25