JOYCE MCMILLAN on TALK TO ME LIKE THE RAIN AND LET ME LISTEN at the Little Theatre, Dundee, for The Scotsman 25.10.14.
4 stars ****
IN ONE SENSE, this evening of short plays by Tennessee Williams seems like a distant, almost exotic choice for the Dundee Rep Ensemble’s latest tour of community venues around the city. The four short plays are set in the old quarter of New Orleans, by a little-used railroad somewhere in the deep south, or in a hotel-room in some American city, two generations ago; the accents are old-fashioned, southern, far less familiar to British audiences than streetwise New York voices or a laid-back Californian drawl.
Yet as the Rep’s recent fine production of The Glass Mengaerie showed, Williams is also an extraordinarily intimate writer, who moves straight to the heart of family trauma, and of the human quest for love, in ways that draw audiences into his world; and something like this seems to happen with Irene Macdougall’s gently lyrical staging of these four tiny dramas, backed by Leila Kalbassi’s atmospheric design of old wooden shutters, linked by surges of poignant music, and beautifuly lit by Ian Dow.
So in a brief evening of 90 minutes, we move from the title play – in which the Rep’s two young graduates, Thomas Cotran and Millie Turner, play a young couple struggling for love and survival in the squalid urban hotel-room they share – to a final performance of William’s unsettling dialogue This Property Is Condemned, in which the same two actors play a strange teenage girl with a battered doll, balancing her way along a disused railway track, and the young man she meets there. Both of these pieces speak volumes about the kind of society in which young people can be cast adrift without love or support, and in which sex becomes a commodity; and there’s a terrific poignancy to Millie Turner’s performances in both plays, above all in her final, yearning Talk To Me Like the Rain monologue.
Perhaps the richest experiences of the evening, though, come in the two central plays, where the characters try to communicate across generations. In Mr. Paradise, John Buick plays an old poet, close to death, whose secluded life in a room in New Orelans is interrupted by a visit from a new young admirer of his work, perfectly played by Miliie Turner; his performance is full of weight and sorrow, and a certain hopeful, defiant wisdom. And in Auto Da Fe, Ann Louise Ross delivers a fine and chilling performance as the mother of a young post-office clerk so sexually repressed that the mere discovery of a dirty postcard, among the mail he is processing completely unbalances his mind, and leads him to an astonishing act of self-destruction.
It’s an image that leads us back to the first play, where the young man in Talk To Me Like the Rain describes himself as being “passed around like a dirty postcard”. And if the world of intense sexual repression Williams describes seems far from us now, this fine staging of these intense and lyrical pieces reminds us that even as society changes, the deepest human emotions of fear, anger, love and loss remain the same, and always instantly recognisable.