This review was originally written for The Reviews Hub.
In mid-century Louisiana Miss Cornelia Scott (Catherine Byrne) awaits news of an election from the Confederate Daughters Society. Unhappy to run in the election as a regular candidate, Cornelia will only accept the highest position of authority if she is offered it unanimously. She has opted out of attending the election in person, feeling that her absence will be notable and might strengthen her position. Thus, she waits in her study by the telephone and is joined by her secretary, Miss Grace Lancaster (Noelle Brown).
While Cornelia’s power struggle with the Confederate Daughters Society is played out through a series of humorous phone calls, the complexity of her relationship with Grace also comes to light. Similarly, the balance of power between the two women waxes and wanes, with Cornelia trying to verbalise, once and for all, the something unspoken between them. Grace, the more reticent of the two, struggles considerably with the process, but in doing so holds a certain power over her employer.
Lee’s direction is both casual and pointed, allowing both actors to fully inhabit their respective roles and give strong performances on either end of the dramatic spectrum. Given the sizeable characteristics of Cornelia, Byrne fills the stage with her presence and is formidable in speech and action. As Grace, Brown’s performance is suitably diminutive but in her rebuttal of Cornelia’s demands she finally gets to demonstrate her acting prowess, which is all the more heightened against her earlier timorousness. The simple set by Andrew Murray evokes a sense of faded splendour suitable for the Deep South at a time when change was only just beginning to travel on the air.
Far from being a simple tale of sexual timidity on the part of Grace, as the brief running time comes to a close Cornelia’s own façade is also brought to the fore. Neither woman has fully self-actualised and given their breeding, their stations in life, and their environment, might never do so. Cornelia’s iron-like public persona belies her insecurities and in many ways she is no different from Grace. Being just on the wrong side of the freedom that the 1960s would herald, they are stuck, both figuratively and literally, in a time and place that will not allow them to be who they truly are. This is a simple and clean production that is refreshing in its traditional approach. Something Unspoken is a pleasure to watch as Byrne and Brown excellently deliver Williams’ cutting but complex dialogue with the grace and humour it deserves.
Writer: Tennessee Williams
Director: Maisie Lee
Runs until 23rd July 2016
Image: courtesy of Bewleys Café Theatre