By Laura Wormington
On 14th December, I joined a small, buzzing crowd in the Djam Lecture Theatre for the SOAS Drama Society’s production of Tennessee Williams’ Small Craft Warnings, their first major performance of the academic year, produced by this year’s society president, Oscar Ward.
The single-act, hour-long, darkly comic play, one of Williams’ lesser known, was an interesting choice. But despite its lack of narrative arc, the cast managed to sustain dynamism throughout with the unfurling–and occasional collisions–of the ten characters, occupiers of a down-and-out bar on the West coast of 1980s California in which the scene is set.
Small craft warnings refer to alerts issued by the US coast-guard to protect small vessels from dangers at sea. During the play, the wonderfully sardonic Robert Bleibtreu, as Doc, jokes that the bar-goers themselves are like small crafts, vulnerable and harbouring in the bar for safety. Indeed, maritime themes and metaphors pervade the drama, emphasised subtly on stage with choices of blue lighting, ambient sounds, and nautical costume choices.
The scene began with a delicate rendition of a sea shanty by Violet, a regular at the bar, played by Sarah Hughes who brought a diaphanous, childlike vulnerability to the part. At the heart of the action was the American-Irish beautician Leona, played by Rebecca Larney. With the lethal combination of gentle charm and thunderous rage, employed by Larney with masterful contrast, Leonais as tempestuous as an ocean storm, lulling her subjects into intimate confessions and then scattering them into disarray.
In the wake of these two enigmatic women, the various male characters were sent floundering and at first seemed more periphery. But, as was gradually revealed through a pastiche of classic Tennessee Williams soliloquies, each had a story to tell. These were all conveyed with great humanity and depth as the actors thoughtfully explored the awkward terrain of human tragedy, from loneliness to death to repressed homosexual desire.
Credit must be given to the directors, Neetika Kurup and Abrar Agboatwala, and crew for their impressive and moving rendering of this challenging play. Follow the society for news of upcoming productions—if Small Craft Warnings is anything to go by, you won’t want to miss out on their next. You can find them on Facebook at ‘SOAS Drama Society’.