Chav On A Hot Tin Roof: Confessional At Southwark Playhouse

Confessional, Southwark Playhouse ★★★★☆

By Johnny Fox Last edited 22 months ago

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Chav On A Hot Tin Roof: Confessional At Southwark Playhouse Confessional, Southwark Playhouse 4

Just off the Elephant and Castle roundabout, it’s no surprise to come across a grotty pub filled with strange people and aggressive drunks. It is a delightful surprise to find it recreated so realistically inside Southwark Playhouse’s ‘The Little’ space, which feels trebled in size and successfully engages its audience who are chatty and sociable well ahead of opening time.

It’s like a one-off episode of EastEnders in which the Dyer and more dire customers of the Queen Vic are transplanted to a caravan park near Southend. While it’s massively enjoyable as an experience, what it does to Tennessee Williams’ play Confessional, originally set in California in the fifties, is less clearly admirable.

Two ferocious central performances finely delineate the woes of women in desperate circumstances. In a performance which will win awards, Lizzie Stanton is barnstorming as Leona: an itinerant nail-bar beautician finally taking control of her own life and rejecting a parasitical dick-swinging boyfriend, played by Gavin Brocker with a butcher’s haircut and channeling Danny Dyer.

Leona is at odds with Simone Somers-Yeates’ damaged vulnerable Violet — first among equals in the absolute authenticity of her performance, much of which involves weeping loudly from the Ladies’.

Simone Somers-Yeates and Lisa Stanton

So what’s the plot? Fights always seem about to erupt but their motives and purpose are buried so deep under such perfectly crystallised surface characterisations that it’s easy to lose sight of the fact this is a Tennessee Williams play from 1970, which has never been performed in the UK before.

Is Leona really Maggie the Cat on a hot tin trailer roof, or the Blanche Dubois of Canvey Island? Probably not. This is a late work for Williams, and one which doesn’t emit the universal resonances of his bigger successes.

Couched in the estuary accent, they might be spouting Shakespeare as the words often don’t make sense in an Essex milieu – we don’t drink bourbon, or threaten to "bust anyone in the kisser" down the snarkier end of the C2C line from Fenchurch Street.

Two effete strangers appear: a soft-spoken gay man and a much younger boy who’s thrown his bike into the back of the older guy’s car in hopes of some adventure. Homosexuality was completely illegal when the play was originally set. The suggestion that contemporary pub bigotry would be as violent works against the playwright’s purpose, and fails to convince. It’s obviously an inconvenient truth for director Jack Silver and there’s some nonsense in the programme attempting to attach aggressive gay-bashing to the post-Brexit world, which is equally tenuous.

Clickbait for the gay press: this isn't a scene and no-one takes their shirts off.

All praise to designers Justin Williams and Jonny Rust. Confessional is a bravura immersive experience, with some terrifically good performances.  Do it again with a better play. And chicken in a basket.

Confessional continues at Southwark Playhouse until October 29.  Tickets from the theatre website. Londonist saw this production on a complimentary ticket.  All photos by Simon Annand.  

Last Updated 13 October 2016