A long monologue by Catrin Aaron as Beulah Binnings complemented by interjections by some other characters establishes both the tragic history of some of the characters and the stifling nature of a society where one must exist within narrow accepted confines.
Lady Torrance’s father did not stay within these strict parameters and suffered the consequences, and now trapped in a loveless marriage Lady herself wants to test the boundaries.
Enter Val Xavier, a charming musician used to a wild and free lifestyle but now wanting a steadier way of life.
He and Lady form a bond, though Carol Cutrere is also attracted to him and other men are threatened by the sensuousness he exudes.
A menacing racism and threat of violence buzz through the piece and the way that Carol, a good time girl who was once a civil rights activist, is ostracized serves to show us what happens to people who won’t fit in.
As in other Tennessee Williams plays themes of patriarchy, sexual frustration and desire for freedom all run through the play. We know that things are not going to end well and the pace of the second half is suitably dramatic culminating in a tragic climax.
The large cast of actors were all excellent and the company dialect coach Nick Trumble obviously did a good job as the deep South accents were consistently convincing.
Hattie Morahan was moving as Lady and Seth Numrich charismatic as Val.
I’m always stunned at the amazing way Williams’s dialogue expresses emotions and feelings we experience so deeply about life but couldn’t ever put our finger on, let alone articulate. This creates a sense of recognition that resonates with the audience.
However I don’t feel it is Williams’s best play and while I enjoyed the evening there were no particular points I took away from it. I wonder why stage this play now and guess perhaps the production team saw parallels with an increased intolerance in a Trumpian, Brexit world. Yet I hope we are nowhere near reaching this level of narrow-mindedness and scapegoating.
Orpheus Descending is definitely worth seeing and is at Theatr Clwyd until April 27. It is a co-production between Theatr Clwyd and Menier Chocolate Factory Theatre and transfers to the London-based theatre in May.