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Home » Blogs, Flip Seat Fringe, Reviews

FLIP SEAT FRINGE – KINGDOM OF EARTH

Submitted by admin on May 6, 2011 – 1:27 pmNo Comment

by Adam Smith

The first, and arguably most important thing to say here, is that the cast
of Kingdom of Earth has nailed the accents. Tennessee Williams is such an
expert at creating a sense of place through only language that an actor with a
bad southern accent not only lets Williams down, he can ruin the play. That’s
not a problem in Lucy Bailey’s gripping production. The accents are so good
that hearing English on the streets outside afterwards sets you off balance
somewhat.
Of course, Williams is about more than extra syllables and curvy vowels. He’s
brilliant at family tension and manipulative behaviour, which are both here in
spades in Kingdom of Earth. It is a rarely remembered play – resurrected this
year at The Print Room as a 100th birthday present to Williams. The text has
had a messy history, which may be the reason for its scarcity, from an erotic
short story to a slated Broadway play to a film released under various titles
both sides of the Atlantic. It was last performed as a play in London in 1984,
surprising when you contrast with how many productions of Cat on a Hot Tin
Roof or A Streetcar Named Desire must have been shown in London over
recent years – not just the big West End productions either.
Kingdom of Earth is mean – perhaps meaner than Williams’ more famous
plays. And it dares to tread on some very sticky ground as it follows a sickly
young man, Lot, who returns to his dilapidated family house with his new
wife, Myrtle. Lot’s half-brother Chicken is waiting for them there. As Lot is
overcome with illness, Myrtle is drawn into a dreadful and vindictive battle
between the two men over ownership of the house. All the while, the floor
waters outside are rising.
That last plot point – the swelling tide – is one of Williams’ masterstrokes. It
is mentioned in the text just enough, and always with menace and dread, so
to create an excellent source of tension, a counterpoint to the human tension
between the characters. And in many ways a deadline. It is conveyed also by
Ruth Sutcliffe’s set, which gives the sense of imminent destruction but also
long-time neglect for this old farmhouse. The set contains one very prominent
and very surreal element, which will likely divide audiences. Some will see
it as creative and striking, which it undoubtedly is. Others will see it as a
distraction, a device that draws you out of the sense of place that the props,
costumes and language work so hard to nail down.
But really what wins above else are the three perfect performances. In a
play of this intimacy, the three actors are very exposed. But they dazzle.
Joseph Drake as Lot probably has the hardest job, in making us believe his
manipulative wickedness, his condition and, ultimately, his psychological
torment. But he manages it very well indeed. David Sturzaker’s Chicken
giggles and growls exactly like a man with his story would, and he’s an expert
at both repulsing and attracting Myrtle as well as the audience. Fiona Glascott
as the new wife herself, meanwhile, portrays the humour and tragedy of her
character with outstanding complexity.
Fringe benefits
A dingy set in an old warehouse from the Fifties is a great way to create a
sense of place and to get the audience in the mood. Also, the lighting is bold
enough to obfuscate things that would need to be clearer in a conventional
theatre.
Kingdom of Earth is at The Print room until 28 May

printroomThe first, and arguably most important thing to say here, is that the cast

of Kingdom of Earth has nailed the accents. Tennessee Williams is such an

expert at creating a sense of place through only language that an actor with a

bad southern accent not only lets Williams down, he can ruin the play. That’s

not a problem in Lucy Bailey’s gripping production. The accents are so good

that hearing English on the streets outside afterwards sets you off balance

somewhat.

Of course, Williams is about more than extra syllables and curvy vowels. He’s

brilliant at family tension and manipulative behaviour, which are both here in

spades in Kingdom of Earth. It is a rarely remembered play – resurrected this

year at The Print Room as a 100th birthday present to Williams. The text has

had a messy history, which may be the reason for its scarcity, from an erotic

short story to a slated Broadway play to a film released under various titles

both sides of the Atlantic. It was last performed as a play in London in 1984,

surprising when you contrast with how many productions of Cat on a Hot Tin

Roof or A Streetcar Named Desire must have been shown in London over

recent years – not just the big West End productions either.

Kingdom of Earth is mean – perhaps meaner than Williams’ more famous

plays. And it dares to tread on some very sticky ground as it follows a sickly

young man, Lot, who returns to his dilapidated family house with his new

wife, Myrtle. Lot’s half-brother Chicken is waiting for them there. As Lot is

overcome with illness, Myrtle is drawn into a dreadful and vindictive battle

between the two men over ownership of the house. All the while, the floor

waters outside are rising.

That last plot point – the swelling tide – is one of Williams’ masterstrokes. It

is mentioned in the text just enough, and always with menace and dread, so

to create an excellent source of tension, a counterpoint to the human tension

between the characters. And in many ways a deadline. It is conveyed also by

Ruth Sutcliffe’s set, which gives the sense of imminent destruction but also

long-time neglect for this old farmhouse. The set contains one very prominent

and very surreal element, which will likely divide audiences. Some will see

it as creative and striking, which it undoubtedly is. Others will see it as a

distraction, a device that draws you out of the sense of place that the props,

costumes and language work so hard to nail down.

But really what wins above else are the three perfect performances. In a

play of this intimacy, the three actors are very exposed. But they dazzle.

Joseph Drake as Lot probably has the hardest job, in making us believe his

manipulative wickedness, his condition and, ultimately, his psychological

torment. But he manages it very well indeed. David Sturzaker’s Chicken

giggles and growls exactly like a man with his story would, and he’s an expert

at both repulsing and attracting Myrtle as well as the audience. Fiona Glascott

as the new wife herself, meanwhile, portrays the humour and tragedy of her

character with outstanding complexity.

Fringe benefits

A dingy set in an old warehouse from the Fifties is a great way to create a

sense of place and to get the audience in the mood. Also, the lighting is bold

enough to obfuscate things that would need to be clearer in a conventional

theatre.

Kingdom of Earth is at The Print room until 28 May

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