Southern Belles invites the audience into the theatre with a shock of pink carpet. This funky, camp backdrop acts as a strong foil to two single act plays, Something Unspoken and And Tell Sad Stories Of The Deaths Of Queens. Both productions chart the troubled stories of a gay romance in mid-twentieth century America.
Something Unspoken is a short play about a woman who has fallen for her secretary of over a decade. This piece was held together with Annabel Leventon’s incredible stage presence as the contrary, posh Cornelia, with her iron-fisted grip on local politics and assertion that she had “never been mollified”. The intimacy of the women's contrasting velvet and plain dressing gowns, along with their playing of warm music on the stereo, brought the audience into their private home. Therefore with that invitation, there also came investment into the private lives of the characters. The deepening of Grace’s character from a timid secretary to a woman with her own voice in the relationship, however cautious, was powerful.
The relationship in this play was sweet and heartwarming, but I would have liked to see more physical chemistry between the two. By the end of the short play we could certainly feel the electric charge of “something unspoken” hung like perfume between the two characters. However, if the play had begun with a stronger subtextual chemistry, this small charge could have been fanned into an emotional furnace by the end of the play.
And Tell Sad Stories Of The Deaths Of Queens was a brilliant juxtaposition to the subtlety of Something Unspoken, including violent tension and a brutal unpicking of two unsuited lovers. The addition of singing and piano playing from the two side characters was a fantastic directing choice which built up the choked, emotional atmosphere. Along with strong characters and imagery, this play nurtured a fascinating exploration of gay values similar to those often explored in contemporary theatre, with questions raised about what it could mean to live a “normal” versus “queer” life.
The way these two plays contrasted with each other was interesting, especially given one was about a male and one about a female couple. However, one couldn't help but feel that, whilst both these plays were well balanced individually, together they gave off a rather stereotyped view of male and female relationships; the men’s story was steeped in violence and the women’s in silence. Whilst both these productions were brilliant in their own right, there was a slight uneasiness to the stereotypical portrayal of women and men’s choices.
Overall, these plays were a fantastic watch for any Tennessee Williams fan. It is gratifying to see a theatre choose to put on work that focuses on Williams' writing on LGBTQ+ issues, particularly in resurrecting And Tell Sad Stories Of The Deaths Of Queens, a play that was not produced in Williams lifetime. Between Williams' enigmatic writing, and a brilliant production team at the King’s Head, this is not a show to miss.
'Southern Belles' is on at The King's Head Theatre until the 24th of August and tickets are available here.
Edited by Alexia McDonald, Digital Editor