(Laura Thompson’s article appeared in the Telegraph, 11/1.)
At first I thought the Royal Exchange had unusually good taste, playing Bessie Smith and John Lee Hooker in the foyer before this play began. It turned out, however, it was scene-setting. The blues runs deep in Orpheus Descending, written in 1940 and closed by censorship, then revised in 1957 when Tennessee Williams was a star.
This drama – which in fact retains something of a younger artist’s excitability – is steeped in the bloody past of the American South. Lynchings are local sport. The “n” word is bandied as freely as in gangsta rap. The howls of “chain-gang dogs” are distantly heard, as is their atavistic satisfaction when an escaped prisoner is caught.