The Two Character Play at Hampstead Theatre: Press night review by Stephen Vowles

I’ve always been intrigued by Tennessee Williams as a playwright, author and an occasional social commenter. In his plays he was always out to shock, raise a few eyebrows and with this, The Two Character Play, he achieves this and more. Also considering this is one of the last plays he wrote, he went out with a bang. 

This is about two broken people; actors that have come to perform in a play in the deep south of America, in the Bible Belt town called New Bethesda, a town consumed by bigotry, tension and hatred. They have no money for cast or company – or for stage hands, so they move the props and lights and cue the sound effects themselves. This is a play within a play and where Williams instructs his actors to break the fourth wall this is done to complete and utter perfection.

The cast of two – Kate O’Flynn as Clare and Zubin Varla as Felice – are incredible; succinct and precise in the delivery of their lines and when the switch comes from their normal regular almost clipped English accents to that of a deep Southern drawl, their skills are revealed. Williams has constructed a beautiful battle of wits and frenzied fortitude. He raises questions about sister and brotherly love, hinting at an incestuous relationship by body language and the way the two look at each other.

Director Sam Yates has used modern technology to bring this production alive by projecting onto the back of the stage, video footage that helps tell the story. There is also a video camera on stage that is used by O’Flynn and Varla to make for great close-ups on their faces. This is very powerful imagery.

As with most of Tennessee’s heroines, Clare is doomed, a tortured soul slowly descending into a world of madness but at the same time time trying to keep control of the situation. With Felice, he is pragmatic hoping that something better will come along. 

If this is an homage to Rose Williams, Tennessee’s sister in real life, then this is a stunning look at a close bond between two siblings. There is heavy use of metaphor, and when you consider that in real life Williams’ mother had his sister have a lobotomy – and he could do nothing to prevent this – must of had an impact on his own mental health.

Williams like Capote got it. The all American ethos – and when staged, as is the case with The Two Character Play, it’s just marvellous to watch. An incredible look at multifaceted and multilayered people that we get to see unravel. Stunning acting and also a visual treat. 


The Two Character Play runs to Saturday 28th August at Hampstead Theatre, Eton Avenue, Swiss Cottage, London NW3 3EU. Box office: 0207 7722 9301

Photos by Marc Brenner

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