Whilst rarely staged, this is a poignant piece by Tennessee Williams about mortality, memory, and mysticism.
Set on the Amalfi coast in Italy, we meet Mrs. Flora Goforth, played with subtlety by Linda Marlow, a wealthy, gregarious yet willowy woman in the twilight of her life. Goforth has numerous marriages behind her and though dying, is frantically dictating her memoirs to her loyal and patient assistant Blackie (played by Lucie Shorthouse). Mid way through the play, Goforth is interrupted by a trespasser, a poet named Chris Flanders (played convincingly by Sanee Raval) whose role is that of a classic Angel of Death, arriving to provide company to ladies of a certain age a ‘step or two ahead of the undertaker’.
The original play was first performed in 1962, at a festival in Italy, followed by a Broadway run in the following year. The piece, a prologue and six scenes, was latterly made into a film called ‘Boom’ starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, becoming infamous for being a low point in both of the famed actors’ careers. This production at the Charing Cross Theatre is the first time the play has been staged since 2011 where Olympia Dukakis took the lead role.
Whilst often regarded as one of the weakest of William’s plays, it does contain some strong and memorable characters including the Witch of Capri, who was played by the scene-stealing Sara Kestelman. Additionally, extracts of dialogue, especially that between Goforth and the Witch of Capri, who is seen hoovering down martinis for much of her visit to GoForth, is both witty and acerbic. These moments of levity are fleeting however, as ultimately the play is about the tragic fate of Goforth, the meaning of life, as we wait to see whether the Angel of Death’s presence will play out as his nickname foreshadows.
With a minimalistic set, the focus was on the script with the wider cast provided ample support. Notable call outs to Joe Ferrera as Rudy and Matteo Johnson as Guilio. The production was paired back and lacked the visual style you’d expect from an Amalfi Coast abode, but a nod to the kabuki form that Williams injected to this 1963 Broadway run, was conveyed through a kimono garb for Goforth and a samurai robe for Flanders.
Whilst this production lacked some fluency and finesse, the text is provocative and emotive, enough to be deserving to be seen more than once a decade.
The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore runs until 23 October 2022 at Charing Cross Theatre, London.
Review by Louise Benham