The two most influential forces in the life of Tennessee Williams were his writing and his sister Rose. They shared a traumatic childhood due to an abusive, alcoholic father and a compliant, depressed mother. Following years of mental instability, Rose underwent a prefrontal lobotomy to cure her schizophrenia, but the operation failed and she was institutionalised for the rest of her life. Profoundly affected by this, thereafter she became his muse and inspired the creation of his fragile female characters.
In this dramatic portrait of Rose, we first meet her as an elderly woman in hospital where the doctor prescribes medication, with personal care by Nurse Felicia. Wrapped up in a cosy dressing gown, Rose looks blankly into space, unable to communicate. Meanwhile, Tennessee has arranged for a regular bunch of roses to be delivered, ‘Roses for my precious rose, who has no soul.’
While the doctor dismissively concludes that Rose is old and cannot connect, Felicia is keen to help, ‘ I can reach her, I don’t give up, she is a person.’ She tries to persuade Rose to start talking by sewing a quilt with images of her favourite things. This triggers a vision of childhood, playing games with Tom and recalling how their domineering, unsympathetic mother caused the young girl to rebel in anger.
And so we move in flashback between present day and the past through various scenes, meeting a potential boyfriend, her ‘gentleman caller’ and an inspirational visit to an art gallery which gives her such joy. Then she snaps back to the bleak emptiness of the hospital ward, with nothing but her beloved collection of tiny glass animals.
Many of Tennessee’s female characters are seen as emotionally alienated and mentally unstable. Suddenly Last Summer, features a scheming plot to have Catherine lobotomized to keep her from revealing a secret; In the final scene of A Streetcar Named Desire, the flighty, flirtatious Blanche DuBois is carried off to an institution; In A Glass Menagerie, fragile-as-glass Laura is known to her Gentleman Caller as "Blue Roses," based directly on Rose.
Apart from a brief reference to Vivien Leigh as Blanche DuBois in the movie, curiously there’s little detail of the literary creation of these fragile women through Tennessee typing a script. Taking on no less than four roles, Aron Dochard seamlessly switches between authoritative doctors, shy, stammering Colin as well as a brief, haunting sketches of Tennessee as a boy and, and as the thoughtful, sad demeanour as the playwright. He felt so guilty by the fact that his success was entirely due to the consequences of Rose’s tragic life.
Clare Cockburn imaginatively uses the concept of the memory play, ‘The Glass Menagerie,’ which is narrated by Tom as Tennessee Williams describes in his stage directions: “The scene is memory and is therefore non-realistic. Memory takes a lot of poetic license. It omits some details, others are exaggerated, according to the emotional value .. for memory is seated predominantly in the heart.”
Likewise, the events of Tennessee, Rose are related through the perspective of Rose’s experiences and faint, fractured journey of memories. Anne Kidd portrays Rose with extraordinary sensitivity and emotional insight as we observe her from a vulnerable teenager, screaming in schizophrenic rage, to the quiet, gentle octogenarian lady, lost and confused in a muddled fog of forgotten dreams.
(Blanche stands quite still for some moments, a look of sorrowful perplexity as though all human experience shows on her face. She finally speaks but with sudden hysteria).
Blanche: What's going on here?
Doctor: Miss DuBois ?
Blanche: [holding tight to his arm]: Whoever you are, I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.
(Blanche walks on without turning, followed by the Doctor and Matron.
From ‘A Streetcar named Desire’ Tennessee Williams
4 – 28 August, @ 12:10 (not 23)
Ticket prices: £11 (£10, £13 (£12).
Age guidance: 14+