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Tennessee Williams' play that reveals his younger genius, but only in contrast to this pedestrian later work

Review: THE MILK TRAIN DOESN'T STOP HERE ANYMORE, Charing Cross Theatre Review: THE MILK TRAIN DOESN'T STOP HERE ANYMORE, Charing Cross Theatre Mrs Goforth is - wouldn't you know it? - a fading Southern Belle whose has worked her way up from provincial teenage showgirl, via four husbands, to a villa above Amalfi looking across the Bay of Naples towards Capri. There she drinks cocktails and scoffs codeine while berating the staff, bitching about her 'friends' and dictating her 'Kiss-And-Tell' memoirs - all with delusions of grandeur, afloat on a sea of inherited wealth. When a young man, a poet no less, turns up having narrowly evaded a mauling from her dogs, her comfortable balloon of boredom is pricked - but it turns out that the mysterious gentleman has a record of visiting ageing wealthy women just before their demise.

This is a rarely performed Tennessee Williams' play that flopped on Broadway in 1962 and then, re-written, flopped again a couple of years later. It's not hard to see why.

The tension between characters founded on that glorious dialogue that Williams could conjure almost at will (or so it appeared) in his earlier years, is absent, replaced by plodding speeches in which people announce their antipathy towards each other and their disappointments in life. There's a nod to the Japanese influence that Williams wanted to bring to his play in Rocco Vena's costumes, but director, Robert Chevara, never quite commits to the form, so it feels like the production is cosplaying Kabuki as much as the characters. They're never quite real enough to be real (as t'were) nor symbolic enough to be symbolic.

The support cast (looser, funnier, harsher) have a lot of fun. Lucie Shorthouse's PA, Blackie (berated for her Vassar Girl style in a rare moment of genuine biting wit that propmpted a much needed eye roll) gets to be impatient and efficient, Joe Ferrera is thuggishly out for number one as bodyguard Rudy and Matteo Johnson is Giulio, the pool boy with no pool.

The issues come more with the leads. Sara Kestelman fares best as the Witch of Capri, a visiting friend -also of a certain age - whose sardonic remarks spice up a love-hate relationship that gets her through the day (Giulio does his bit to get her through the night). It's always a disappointment when she leaves the stage - the play needs more of the Witch!

The two leads never really get going. Linda Marlowe gives her Flora Goforth a glamour now receding swiftly into the rear view mirror, but, too often, her observations are tedious and dull rather than suggestive of a woman who is living in the past because it was a great place to spend time. Sanee Raval looks the part as a beatnikish poet, but he speaks in riddles and never acquires the seductive sheen that an Angel of Death surely requires. Chemistry is there none.

The play may appeal to fans of Williams who will seize the chance to tick off a play from his canon, but this fan of Williams was mainly reminded of just how good so many of his other works are. There's room for improvement in the performances - there was certainly a bit of polishing still to be done on press night - but it's hard to see how this script can produce anything beyond a curio that captures Williams' obsessions, but not his genius.

The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore is at the Charing Cross Theatre until 22 October

Photo Credit: Nick Haeffner

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From This Author - Gary Naylor

Gary Naylor is chief London reviewer for BroadwayWorld ( and feels privileged to... (read more about this author)

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