Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Men chasing older women: The Fat Man's Wife

Remaining un-produced until 2004, The Fat Man's Wife by Tennessee Williams is having its UK Premiere at the Canal Cafe Theatre. It is a fragment of a play rather than a fully fledged piece that is about a sophisticated society lady who has to make a choice... Should she stay with her rich philandering husband or run off to Mexico with a poor young playwright?  It's Hobson's Choice set in the Upper East Side.

Written in 1937, it is perhaps it is probably also the first case of a MILF relationship portrayed on stage. But it a fascinating look at how some of Tennessee Williams's observations on women, relationships and situations would later develop. And even if it is a bit predictable, running under an hour it makes for a none too taxing early evening diversion.


The actors do well with the material they are given but you get the feeling they could spit out some of the hoarier lines quicker so the audience does not notice them so much.

The society lady Vera, played by Emma Taylor has the most developed character of the three. She gets some of the funnier lines, such as when Vera exclaims to the young playwright that she is old enough to be, "I won't say your mother, but at least your mother's youngest sister..."

Richard Stephenson Winter, playing the philandering husband Joe does not get the chance to do much but Damien Hughes as the playwright Dennis Merriwether looks and sounds so much like a young Tennessee Williams so you are not left with any doubt about the autobiographical content of the piece. Williams did have a failed relationship with a woman (which is noted in the programme) so if there ever was a second act written for the piece he would no doubt come back from Acapulco with husband and snappy dress sense...

Perhaps the combination of the acting and the staging within the lovely space of the Canal Cafe Theatre (near little Venice) makes this seem a better piece than it really is. The audience sits around the performers (including on stage). You don't need to watch everything as the dialogue and the performances as they happen around you lend a sense moody atmosphere to to the proceedings.

It would be some years before Williams had his breakout success with the Glass Menagerie but some of the themes about being trapped or running off appear in his later works. The piece runs out of steam rather than concludes, but as it is barely 8.30 you won't mind that much.

Worth a look for its short run, Thursday to Sundays at the Canal Cafe Theatre until 2 March.

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Photo credit: Production photos Simon Annand