(Michael Billington's article appeared in the Guardian, October 27.)
Spring Storm/Beyond the Horizon
Royal and Derngate, Northampton
This is a momentous event: the European premiere of a Tennessee Williams play written when he was an Iowa student in 1937, and a rare revival of Eugene O'Neill's first Pulitzer prize-winning play, a Broadway hit in 1920. Intelligently cross-cast and brilliantly directed by Laurie Sansom, they are not only a huge feather in Northampton's cap, they also offer the exciting spectacle of young dramatists mapping out their territory.
Williams's Spring Storm could be described as a southern love story. On the Mississippi delta, the well-born Heavenly Critchfield finds herself torn between two admirers: the earthy, restless Dick Miles and the spineless, moneyed Arthur Shannon. Despite occasional melodramatic flourishes, you can hear Williams finding his own voice. The highly sexed Heavenly, reared in a decaying mansion, is an early sketch for Blanche Dubois. The destructive power of Eros, described as "the biggest guy of them all", is memorably shown in a repressed librarian's tragic love for Arthur. And Williams's gift for social satire emerges in his devastating portrait of Heavenly's mother, played with towering snobbery by Jacqueline King. This is a play in which the dialogue soars, and the central trio of Liz White as the reckless Heavenly and Michael Thomson and Michael Malarkey as her suitors here do it rich justice.
Clearly, Williams knew Eugene O'Neill's Beyond the Horizon and had absorbed much from it. In both plays you see two men, the materialist and the poet, in love with the same girl. But O'Neill's speciality is a sense of doom that hangs over the characters; it informed all his later work. Here, the division is between two brothers: Robert, who dreams of a world beyond the Connecticut hills, and Andrew, a land-loving farmer. When their neighbour, Ruth, declares her passion for Robert, the two siblings fatally swap roles.
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