Is it Tennessee Williams if there isn’t any jazz? Director Laurie Sansom certainly doesn’t think so. Sansom does a fantastic job at establishing a tone. As you walk into the Crucible’s Studio Theatre, the mellow music and rustic minimal set act as a warning sign: DANGER ANYTHING AND EVERYTHING COULD HAPPEN. So that’s how Beyond These Walls starts. Jazz and an unmade bed and a world of possibilities.
Beyond These Walls takes four Tennessee Williams (The Lady of Larkspur Lotion, Talk to Me Like the Rain and Let Me Listen, Every Twenty Minutes and The Case of the Crushed Petunias) plays and brings them to life with four kinetically astute actors (Brianna Douglas, Christine Entwisle, Arian Nik, and Guy Rhys). The result is a production no one would be disappointed to see. You enter eagerly hoping for interesting and innovative theatre and you leave fully satisfied.
Whilst one would assume this is because of Williams’ writing, I’d argue it’s somewhat in spite of his work. I doubt anyone would argue against the notion that these four short pieces aren’t his best work. The first piece is a prime example of this: I fear, for a moment, that Sansom and his cast have started on the wrong foot with The Lady of Larkspur Lotion. Its issues, which occasionally find themselves within later pieces, are rife and its significance unclear. Whilst Douglas, Entwisle, and Rhys are giving it their all, the short-play itself feels overly sentimental, lacking in concrete compelling conflict and is unnecessarily reliant on abstract soliloquy. Barely a laugh is had and very few lessons are learned. Nonetheless, Beyond These Walls gets better and better with each new moment.
As we transition into the next play, I realise that Sansom is utilising every tool in his armory to turn this compilation into an anthology. The second play, Talk to Me Like the Rain and Let Me Listen, whilst burned with a cumbersome monologue, doesn’t let the energy fall. Douglas and Nik show themselves to be the production’s shining stars and bring the best out of each other. There are still moments where I slink back into my chair, fearful the purpose of the production won’t materialise and then Tim Skelly’s influence emerges.
Skelly, the lighting designer, is able to produce his own production which dances along the walls of the theatre as the actors move along the stage. The image of Douglas writ-large on the rain battered reems brings a small smile to my face. As she speaks of her dreams of being sat in the cinema once more, there she is, a giant on the big screen. It doesn’t just shine but illuminates. Skelly makes clear the purpose of the present moment and the direction of the play overall. From this moment I am hooked.
Just when you’re settled in, the stage changes. This is a production that utilises staging, lighting and sound to build atmosphere and drama. We begin with a piece of theatre that is conventional to the point of frustration, but end with the characters and an audience exiting into a limitless space. Sure the actors don’t always hit their mark, but each person has a moment of true brilliance.
Funny at times, devastating in others, the show takes risks which don’t always pay off but finishes with a bang. I look forward to seeing what the cast and crew do next.
Beyond These Walls will be available online later this year. For more information and tickets, see Northern Broadsides’s website.