Spring Storm by Tennessee Williams

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BBC Radio 3, 6 March 2011
Written in 1937 but not premiered on stage until 1995, Spring Storm contains many elements characteristic of Williams' mature work: the dead hand of tradition; the influence of the past on the present; and the difficulties of personal self-expression, whether emotional or sexual, in a traditional society preoccupied with appearances.
This production was first staged at the Royal and Derngate, Northampton by Laurie Sansom. It came across as a series of dramatic set-pieces involving exchanges between two or three characters, linked by an uncredited narrator who gave the stage-directions at the beginning and end of each act ("the curtain slowly falls.") This approach underlined the play's theatricality, as well as investing it with a particular intensity: each act came across as a verbal battle whose participants struggled to control one another as a way of compensating for their sexual and/or personal inadequacies.  Esmeralda Critchfield (Jacqueline King) kept shouting at her wayward daughter Heavenly (Liz White), while at the same time trying to encourage Heavenly's would-be suitor Arthur Shannon (Michael Malarkey). Heavenly herself cast a peculiar spell over Arthur, even if it was largely unintentional: when she smiled at him, Arthur recalled a traumatic event during his childhood, when Heavenly stood by smiling while his peers called him a cissy. As he recounted this event, Heavenly giggled in the background, as if rather pleased with herself for being able to influence him so much. Arthur could only assume control over other people when he was drunk, as he forced himself on Hertha Neilson (Anna Tolputt).
It was clear that interpersonal communication was difficult, if not impossible in this kind of society, where the past held sway over the present. As Arthur tried to come to terms with Hertha's suicide, Hertha's blood-curdling screams could be heard in the background, suggesting that they would haunt him for ever. As Heavenly looked the protrait of her great-grandfather (a hero of the Civil War), her voice echoed in ghostly fashion, as if indicating some kind of spiritual communion between herself and her long-deceased relative. Such communication should have helphed her in her struggle to maintain an independent existence, free of her domineering mother; but Sansom suggested that Heavenly was actrually oppressed by her relative. As she looked at the picture, she burst into tears, as if aware that by sleeping with her boyfriend Dick Miles (Michael Thomson) before marriage, she had besmirched the family reputation.
The only character who offered her some kind of personal and emotional security was her father (James Jordan), who firmly believed in the future, not the past. As Heavenly spoke with him, her voice softened, becoming almost childlike as she yearned for the day when she could act according to her own feelings, rather than her family's wishes.
However Sansom suggested somewhat pessimistically that this ideal state of affairs could and would never happen. First Dick, and then Arthur decided to leave Heavenly, leaving her to contemplate life alone. She heaved a weary sigh, as she understood the impossibility of her position; if either of them returned, then Heavenly could expect criticism from her family for marrying a bum (Dick) or a murderer (Arthur). If she stayed alone, she would likewise attract criticism for remaining an old maid; someone both sexually and emotionally inadequate, having been unable to find a suitable male partner. Heavenly's sigh acknowledged her lack of self-determination.
This spell-binding production was marred a little by the rather wayward American accents, which tended to slip into Received Pronunciation rather than the Deep South twang. Nonetheless Sansom confirmed Williams' reputation as one of the major voices in twentieth century American drama.