Brighton Fringe 2017
Codge Crawford, Helen Fox and Stephen Carruthers – also responsible for lighting, set with an ancient-green swing and technical, are directed by Codge Crawford. Ellie Stevens supplies impressive recorded voices and sound, flames, shouts and a lowering threshing faded out to allow dialogue.
Fox and Hound Theatre Company’s trio of Tennessee Williams are a must-see. Not just because they premiere the 1981 Ivan’s Widow adding the 1953 Talk to Me Like the Rain and Let Me Listen but the gem: 27 Wagons Full of Cotton from 1946. already famed for a Edinburgh Fringe sell-out.
It’s a brutal three-hander, Williams describing it as Missisippi Delta comedy. Codge Crawford, Helen Fox and Stephen Carruthers – also responsible for lighting, set with an ancient-green swing and technical, are directed by Codge Crawford. Ellie Stevens supplies impressive recorded voices and sound, flames, shouts and a lowering threshing faded out to allow dialogue.
Jake, a middle-aged, shady cotton gin owner picks up some fuel oil and drives off in his Chevvy deserting his young wife Flora. She’s young, fragile, with the quotient of yearning Williams gifts and curses many women; but here Flora’s nearly inarticulate, almost without inner resources of any kind. The southern accents Williams has exported dramatically are consummate in both.
Soon Flora and other voices offstage thrill to a blaze. It’s clear from his wrist-wrenching Flora on his return that Jake’s burned down the mill of Silva Vicarro, a rival in the cotton business. He almost tortures Flora into getting the story right. Crawford’s brutally chilling and you dream revenge as Fox exudes vulnerability and confusion.
Jake brings it himself. Now he can employ the penniless Vicarro (a glowering whip-in-hand Stephen Carruthers), and brings him back for Flora to entertain whilst on other business, praising Flora’s voluptuousness. You wonder what transaction Jake’s really seeking. Vicarro knows what happened but can’t prove it, so he seeks revenge via Flora. When Jake returns he seems oblivious.
This play offers virtually no redemptive moment of empathy. The dark handsome stranger who praises Flora’s ‘delicate’ flesh is only contrasting that with what he intends and feels. Flora, whom Stephen Carruthers’ character realises is attracted by force could easily charm the pain-killer-and-alcohol-prone Flora, whom Fox renders in terrible wisps. He chooses not to.
Carruthers’ force squares audience and Fox. It’s a brooding one-dimensional role Carruthers gives credent flesh to. Crawford’s soliloquy – there are several by all characters – contrasts too with his swift violence, a blank obliviousness to Flora until he requires her, his ‘Baby’, whom he alternately cajoles then sadistically rounds on. Crawford’s savagery’s both contained and believable because deployed in contrasts of almost psychopathic switchback.
Fox’s performance is outstanding for its muted vulnerability, never over-emphasizing the incoherence at the expense of coherent desires to be love or at least acknowledged. By the end she’s grown a bitter wisdom; her devastated laughter and tears failing even to alert Jake, nevertheless show her stripped of illusions, broken in one way, but no longer vulnerable to persuasion or false loyalty. She’ll perhaps elect to survive on her own terms and you try to imagine how she might just struggle to realise that if she’s not crushed altogether. The way Fox conjures tears and bitter laughter suggests Jake’s not as it were cottoned on to Flora’s hard-earned new wisdom. A superb piece superbly played.