It’s New Year’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 – 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 he’s gone, enter Dennis (Damien Hughes), a gauche young playwright determined to save the fat man’s wife by whisking her off to Acapulco…
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. It’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 Café 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 – though it’s Damien Hughes who just snatches the acting prize.
The Fat Man’s Wife is on at the Canal Café Theatre, Delamere Terrace, W2, until 2 March 2014. Tickets £9-£12.50. Londonist saw this play on a complimentary ticket.