The Menier Chocolate Factory Theatre is a gorgeous little space, lending itself rather beautifully to Tenessee Williams’ simmering Deep South drama. The low ceilings, wooden flooring and a clever lighting design (by Tim Mascall) brings Jonathan Fensom’s design to life compellingly and a talented ensemble cast hold the audience spellbound.
For the entire first act it is impossible to escape being drawn into the quiet, slow, claustrophobic world that Orpheus Descending creates – a small judgmental town in America’s south which is rocked with the arrival of womanising musician Val (Seth Numrich, complex and brooding in a snakeskin jacket). The town gossips are vicious, the men cruel and the past inescapable – Lady Torrance, a middle aged shopkeeper whose elderly husband is dying, is utterly trapped in her grocery store.
Hattie Morahan is excellent as Lady – commanding the stage easily with an assured and often poignant performance. She is supported ably by the rest of the cast – Jemima Rooper as town troublemaker Carol is a particular stand out, and Carol Royle as the blind artist Vee gives a touching and convincing performance. The distinctive American accents do have a tendency to slip but in general, the acting is very capable.
The direction, perhaps less so – particularly after the interval. As Williams’ script intensifies – which I’m sure could be wonderfully effective if handled in a careful way – Tamara Harvey’s direction sees the second half of the play spiral into a cacophony of shrieks and ceaseless movement, and by the point of the production’s climax, there is really nowhere left for the drama to escalate. A shame that Harvey didn’t use the intimacy of the space to make the second act a little more restrained.