Short but Sweet

The Fat Man's Wife 5 - courtesy Simon AnnandCanal Cafe Theatre presents The Fat Man’s Wife by Tennessee Williams

It is always intriguing to hear about a “new” play from a celebrated dead playwright.  Although written in 1938, The Fat Man’s Wife remained unproduced throughout Williams’ lifetime, having its first staging in New York in 2004.  This is its first UK production.  Despite the excitement of the new, however, there is also slight suspicion – why would the work of an extremely successful and well-regarded writer be so neglected?  It was therefore with curiosity mixed with apprehension that I arrived at the Canal Cafe on Thursday night.

I had never been to this theatre before, but from previous knowledge I had been expecting an arrangement of tables and chair, café- style.  However, the company had decided to perform in traverse, which was an excellent choice, as it really made the best of the space available.  Incorporating an actual window into the set, rather than covering it up was also a good idea.

I was first drawn to Williams’ work after seeing a film version of The Glass Menagerie, featuring Karen Allen as Laura, and this has remained my favourite of his plays.  The Fat Man’s Wife appears to have many similarities with the story of Shakespeare’s sister, in that they are both slightly gentler than much of the writer’s other work, while still containing the sense of claustrophobia and restriction that characterises the majority of his plays.

All three actors did a wonderful job.  Damien Hughes, as Dennis Merriwether, conveyed the exuberance and indestructibility of youth and the frustration when he realises that eagerness and enthusiasm isn’t going to be enough, in a lively, engaging way.  Emma Taylor (Vera) had our sympathy as the middle-aged woman trapped in a loveless marriage, who nevertheless is too scared, or too realistic, to escape.  We could feel her pain, and, even more, her weariness.  Although his part was small, Richard Stephenson Winter, still managed to portray Joe as a figure to be pitied, a victim of his own appetites, and made Vera’s decision to stay with him believable.  The play was ably directed by Russell Lucas, with assistance from Anne Harris.

Without knowing the background of this play, however, it comes across as the first act of a two act play, with the second act missing.  The ending is abrupt, and it feels as if the characters could have done with a lot more development.  But once you take into account the fact that it was one of Tennessee William’s earlier pieces of writing, and look at it as a sort of rehearsal for his later works, it becomes a fascinating piece of theatre, well worth the price of admission.

The Fat Man’s wife is running Thursday – Sunday at the Canal Cafe Theatre, Little Venice until 2 March, Sundays at 7pm, all other shows at 7.30pm.  For tickets and more information, please visit www.canalcafetheatre.com.  Picture by Simon Annand.

Mary Tynan

From Stage to Page

It's a Desperate Life - cover imageIt’s a Desperate Life by Peter Hammond

I was tempted to call this piece “It’s a Desperate Book,” just for fun.  But it would have been misleading, because it’s not a desperate book, unless you mean desperately good, desperately funny, or desperately hard to put down.

Frankie Flynn, the book’s main character, first appeared in a play called Quare Times.  In its first full production, I was delighted to be cast in the role of Susan, and I happily described the play to anyone who asked as “a Dublin version of Alf Garnett crossed with a lesbian version of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, with me playing Sidney Poitier.”  I did not know at the time that Quare Times would be just the first of a series, and that Frankie would go on to have many more adventures.

Peter Hammond, who was at that time the director of the London Irish Centre in Camden, went on to write several more plays in the series, and after the first production, the role of Frankie was always played by Owen Nolan, to whom (along with the author’s father) this book is dedicated.  Owen contributed a lot to the development of the character, and will always be the definitive Frankie Flynn.

What Peter has done with this book is to take the characters and events from these plays, expand them, link them together, and transform them into a well-written comic novel.  The first-person narrative gives an entirely different feel to the main character, and we see the other people in the world of the fictional Dublin district, the Daymo, through his eyes.  All the characters are well delineated, and very funny, in their own right, and the book is full of hilarious lines, such as “Ya’d lick it (beer) off a scabby leg” – Peggy (his wife) talking to Frankie.

The novel has a softer, more relaxed feel than the plays: tending to be slightly less uproarious and more gently amusing.  That said, it also has more of a roller-coaster feel, as the main character plunges from one situation to another.  Hearing the stories through Frankie’s words, and using the through story of a proposed move to the suburbs brings the disparate stories into a coherent whole.  Strangely, I find myself reminded of Keith Waterhouse’s equally charismatic character, Billy Liar.

This is an excellent first novel, which I predict will be but the first of many by this talented writer.  It’d be a desperate shame not to read it.

You can buy It’s a Desperate Life online at http://peterhammondauthor.com, and you can read Frankie Flynn’s blog at http://www.frankieflynn.blogspot.co.uk.

Mary Tynan

 

Owen Clinton 27 March 1950 – 18 January 2014

The death occurred on Saturday, 18 January 2014 in St Joseph’s Hospice, Hackney, of Owen Joseph Clinton (stage name Owen Nolan), late of Islington, North London.  A celebration of his life was held on 28 January 2014.  He is buried in Islington Cemetery.

I first met Owen in 2009, when we were cast together in a production of Julie Sibbons’ The Shoes at the London Irish Centre.  I was immediately struck by both his professionalism and his friendly, straightforward manner.  This initial impression blossomed into a friendship which I came to treasure over the time of our (too-brief) acquaintanceship.

Owen was born in Dublin and lived there until he was four years old, growing up in Manchester before moving to London, where he pursued a successful career in education.  He had several different roles in the field, including lecturer, head of department and even OFSTED inspector.  Education’s loss was entertainment’s gain, when, after taking early retirement, Owen trained as an actor at the Poor School in King’s Cross.  I had the privilege of playing his wife in his first professional production after leaving drama school (the aforementioned The Shoes with London Irish Theatre) and we worked together many times over the years (six months after playing my husband, he was playing my granddad).  Perhaps Owen’s most iconic role was as the definitive Frankie Flynn in Peter Hammond’s series of comedies about a likeable Dubliner, but Irish plays were far from the whole of his career.  His range was very wide –  encompassing opera, Shakespeare, and performances at the Old Vic in Inherit the Wind.  Owen’s take on Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell was a joy to watch, and you can read reviews of his performances in As You Like It and Poe: Macabre Resurrections elsewhere on this site.  Owen was also a talented musician and singer, performing Irish folk music with a couple of bands, most recently Chief O’Neill.

Owen’s impact was far greater than a professional one however.  He was a wonderful friend, family man and genuinely good human being.  Speaking for myself, I will remember the man who spent the night in hospital with me after I was hit by a car and drove me home the next morning; who came to see my plays and saw me safely home afterwards, and made me welcome in the home he shared with Mary, his partner of 15 years, and his sister Dora.  He looked after his mother in her final illness, and cared for his sister for much of his life.  Owen spent his last days in St Joseph’s Hospice in Hackney, where he was lovingly watched over by Mary and his brother Niall.  Predeceased by his brother Alan, Owen is mourned by his partner Mary, his sister Dora, his brothers Niall and Denis, his sisters-in-law Maggie and Alison, his niece Katherine and nephew Kevin, his cousins, family members and friends whose lives were touched by his.  In the words of his brother Niall, “the world is a better place now, because my brother lived in it.”

Ní bhfeicimid a leithéid arís ann.

Mary Tynan