If I walked in to a pub on a Friday night and spied a group of drunk and argumentative mates making a rowdy scene like this one, I’d be scared, perhaps even walk out. At Monk’s Bar, however, I was gripped, glued to my seat. Confessional aims for an immersive experience, and thoroughly succeeds – with cast sitting among the audience, and Monk taking orders for drinks.
Theatre company Tramp have the script on their side. Tennessee Williams is the master of penning miscellaneous characters who might be described (in less polite circles) as the detritus of life, yet reveal sad souls from behind brash exteriors. And fans of the writer need not worry; the characters live in all their complexity in this production of a lesser-known play. There are a few tweaks: rather than California, the company chooses the Essex coast for its setting, and characters’ accents are fittingly English too, a choice which works well.
The confessional theme is faithfully represented, and all twelve characters play their individual roles convincingly under the spotlight. If I’ve one reservation, it’s that the sexual themes represented by Violet the nymphomaniac and the two gay guys visiting to the bar are less shocking these days than they would have been when written; in my view Violet’s shameless and evidently uncontrollable urges are overplayed for our times, and attract more of our attention than necessary.
But that is forgiven, because Lizzie Stanton absolutely smashes it as beautician Leona. It’s difficult to take your eyes off her, and Stanton adeptly achieves the complex character of a woman whose life has given her knocks enough to make her staunchly independent. We encounter her at a point when she’s ready to move on up the coast from Treasure Island trailer park, without the lowlife she’s given a rent-free home for six months. As she rants at him, she superbly pulls off a balance between aggression – letting him know exactly how it’s going to be – and an observable vulnerability and loneliness.
At the end, we learn that the company lost and found a new sponsor only a few days before the Fringe. It would have been a tragedy had this powerful production not made it to Edinburgh… and I’m betting that it’s only the start of great things to come for Lizzie Stanton.