27 Wagons Full of Cotton

Fri 5th – Sat 27th August 2016

reviews

Jessica Baxter

at 09:33 on 9th Aug 2016

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In one intensely provocative single act, the Fox and Hound Theatre Company have valiantly resurrected Tennessee Williams’s widely unknown play about a dysfunctional married couple and a sinister rival on a New Orleans cotton farm. The play offers a douse of heartbreak in high concentration for the short spurt of thirty minutes. Not the fault of the company but of the script they chose, this is perhaps the performance’s biggest drawback – I was left wanting more from the stirring narrative and the fantastic acting that brings it to life.

The play centres on the emotional manipulation and physical violence towards the endearingly simple Flora Meegan, the wife of cotton gin owner Jake. With the arrival of Silva Vicarro, whose own cotton gin has mysteriously burnt down, things take a turn for the misogynistic worse. The ubiquitous threat of masculine vehemence seethes into the dialogue, with the scarily convincing Codge Crawford as Jake manipulating Flora’s sweet soul. The small cast and set evokes a stifling claustrophobia, and you can only feel immense pity for Flora as she grasps for answers or any kind of help.

The highly talented Helen Fox plays Flora without the sadomasochistic undertones of the 1956 film adaption ‘Baby Doll’; Flora seems to know she is being mistreated but seems incapable of doing anything about it. What is unnerving is the way she trembles like a wounded animal or child when violently reprimanded by Jake, or deliberately disoriented by Silva. Her Forest Gump-esque accent whines over her stifled fear, and she can only talk like an infant in these moments. ‘It hurt!’ she cries as Jake crushes her throat in his fist. ‘You tickle,’ she giggles when he swings back into the good husband act. It is disturbingly effective to add to the audience's sense of unease.

Both Fox and Crawford eliminate all twangs of their real accent, Scottish or otherwise, and come across as naturalistic, turn-of-the-century Americans. Stephen Carruthers, on the other hand, does not create a convincing Silva. His eyes seem glazed over as he looks over the audience; there is not enough energy in his countenance or movement to match the animated, evil-minded personality which he attempts to portray. It does, in fact, feel quite lazy and lets down the rest of the acting. And, quite frankly, his fake Louisiana accent was pretty bad.

Aside from these few negative aspects, ’27 Wagons Full of Cotton’ really is a marvellous piece of small-scale theatre. The rawness of this play is enough to make you feel stings of hatred, pity and helplessness, and tell a friend about it after.

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Frances Ball

at 11:30 on 9th Aug 2016

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Tennessee Williams’ play, '27 Wagons Full of Cotton', is a one act piece, in which a man whose business is burnt down by a rival, and in a terrifyingly single-minded act of revenge, attacks his rival’s innocent wife. In 1930s Mississippi, this all takes place against the backdrop of the biting Depression – and the 'good neighbour policy', the cynicism of which is sharp.

'27 Wagons Full of Cotton' is a show that deals with abuse, mental health issues, and rape, and does so poignantly. Particularly given that these subjects are far from being outdated, the show manages to give a fresh look at modern concerns with Williams’ script.

Helen Fox as Flora Meighan is stunning. She is the perfect Williams heroine, staring with a wide eyed and disarmingly childlike naivety at the cruelty that is thrown at her without relent. Manipulative abuse takes many forms, and Codge Crawford as her husband perfectly conveys a devastatingly rapid switch between violent attacks and sinister, sickly sweet pastiches of love and affection.

Both the play and this production deftly handle heavy topics. It is easy to forget it is a show – heart in mouth, the audience is dead silent as Silva Vicarro (Stephen Carruthers) prowls around Flora like a circling hyena. His rage is tangible, and his complete lack of mercy is frightening. It is Helen Fox, though, who the leading light of the production. Her character is classic Tennessee Williams and it is hard to doubt that the playwright would be proud of her performance. She gives a faultless performance throughout, across the different emotional responses of her character.

The set is effective in its simplicity, as are the the period costumes. The production values do justice to the Fox and Hound Theatre Company’s intention; “we want to produce new and classic theatre with real people, in real and often hard situations, people who we might all recognise in some way.” The play follows some classic motifs of Tennessee Williams’ writing, particularly in the way that characters don't communicate with each other in an emotional sense. Fox and Hound Theatre give a show full of poignancy, and an admirable if tear provoking range of human emotion. It is well worth the visit.

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