Flora “Sissy” Goforth (Linda Marlowe) is a Georgia belle, although we have to rely on the script to tell us this as her accent wanders wildly. At one point she sounded distinctly Australian. She is dictating her memoirs to her secretary Miss Black or ‘Blackie’ (a strong Lucie Shorthouse) when there is an interruption at the discover an intruder, Chris Flanders (Sanee Raval). Chris has climbed the cliffs to the house seeking to speak with Mrs Goforth. Viewed with suspicion due to his reputation for befriending rich old women, he has earned the nickname of ‘the angel of death’.
Worth mentioning is Sara Kestelman as ‘The Witch of Capri’. Despite sharing top billing she only appears in a couple of scenes but excels in each, bringing much needed levity and humour, especially with her fantastic parting scene.
Raval plays Chris with a strange detachment. There feels a lack of charisma present, so there is no attraction, no relationship or even depth to him. Rather he simply seems ‘zoned out’. There is also little to no flow within many of the scenes. It gives the impression that actors are simply saying their lines as if by rote – line, response, line. There are no pauses and lines are often stepped on, not just when there was a flub. The stage feels a vacuum of charisma, suggesting perhaps that more rehearsals would have been warranted ahead of opening?
The set is equally at fault. Staged in the traverse, the cast seem to be acting to the walls around them, giving the audience a side view. Charing Cross Theatre can be set up for end-on, so I just don’t understand why this wasn’t the preferred configuration here. Instead, it adds distance from the audience, lessening the impact of every line.
There are small hints that give hope the story might finally come together. Chris’ explanation of how he believed he had found his calling the first time he helped an old man brings the story to the fore, as well as providing some much-needed meat to it. Is he a selfless young man trying to do good, or is he opportunistic who hopes to gain monetarily? Or perhaps he is both?
This production has been updated to a modern-day setting, although that seems simply the introduction of mobile phones and tablets as props. The script itself hasn’t been updated to match. A long-distance call made on a mobile gets reported by a telephone company in one scene! The cultural references clearly remain with their 1950s original. In fact, I wonder if this production sticks too much to the original text? A tear-down adaptation of this play may have proved more interesting, taking elements of the underlying story which do work and building something from them.
As it is, whilst enlivened by occasional moments of humour, the production and delivery fail to produce a fulfilling show. It is rather telling that the biggest laugh of the evening came from the line ‘I never leave until the end’. But the audience laughter here was not kind.
Written By: Tennessee Williams
Directed By: Robert Chevara
Produced by: Steven M Levy for Charing Cross Theatre Productions Limited
The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore plays at Charing Cross Theatre until 22 October. Further information and bookings can be found here.