It’s New Yearâ€™s morning 1938 and the Cartwrights are stumbling home soused after a tense masked party. Joe (Richard Stephenson Winter) is restless and ill at ease, while his wife Vera (Emma Taylor) looks like her mind is elsewhere â€“ with someone else perhaps. They talk past each other, a weary couple in the chilly late autumn of their marriage. Finally, Joe heads to the drugstore for aspirins to ease his head. Then, while heâ€™s gone, enter Dennis (Damien Hughes), a gauche young playwright determined to save the fat manâ€™s wife by whisking her off to Acapulcoâ€¦
This one act play by Tennessee Williams, discovered in 2000 and premiering now in London, has a desperate atmosphere of hemiplegia. It perfectly captures the post-party come-down and the compressed melancholy of an empty early morning as yet another new year stretches out like a prison sentence. Itâ€™s a simple early work by Williams yet an effective mood piece in which you know the characters are liable to say or do the wrong thing.
The tiny salon-like space of the Canal CafĂ© Theatre adds to the acute sense of danger, with the audience feeling as though it is trespassing on horribly intimate conversations made up of curt and unwisely candid one-liners. It’s almost like you are gathered for a seance as the three actors float in and out of the velvet curtains behind their Venetian masks. The dialogue is alternately sharp like whiskey then listless like a lungful of cigarette smoke. Everyone is very good under Russell Lucas’s sensitive direction â€“ though it’s Damien Hughes who just snatches the acting prize.
The Fat Manâ€™s Wife is on at theÂ Canal CafĂ© Theatre, Delamere Terrace, W2, until 2Â March 2014. Tickets ÂŁ9-ÂŁ12.50. Londonist saw this play on a complimentary ticket.