ITCH Productions presents the Australian premiere of Vieux Carré by Tennessee Williams as a Midsumma 2013 premier event at fortyfivedownstairs. It is a rich and haunting drama set in Williams' favourite backdrop – the French Quarter of New Orleans.
This is one of Williams' lesser known plays which he began writing in 1938 but did not complete until nearly 40 years later. It is largely autobiographical and may be described as the beginning of Williams' exploration of self as well as his development of mood, melodrama and 'memory play' technique which were to become his trademark in later, more recognizable works.
The French Quarter of New Orleans was to Williams' what New York is to Simon. The Quarter is alive and intoxication – it pulses in fact as director Alice Bishop discovered. "I had always wanted to go to New Orleans – even as a child it was a fixed ambition," she says. " In my early twenties I made plans to go but those plans were curtailed by a breaking relationship. Finding Vieux Carre and going to America for the first time was happenstance, helped along by a sale fare to Memphis I came upon, and my love of blues music. An intersection of circumstances that led me to drive from Memphis, through Mississippi, taking in Clarkesdale – home of Delta blues and childhood home of Williams, through Louisiana to New Orleans. I fell in love with the South and it’s people. Making this work has given me thus far some of the most satisfying and joyful experiences in a rehearsal room. It also marks an important step for ITCH Productions and answers many ambitions Des Fleming and I have had for our company."
Bishop found the play by chance after ordering several plays she'd never heard of online. Her ambition had been to read more of Williams’ work but she had never made more than a few forays past the more well-known works. On finding, Vieux Carre, she says, it spoke to her heart from the first pages with it’s cast of diverse and finely wrought characters and Williams’ trademark lyricism.
There are always challenges when bringing a work to life – both in a practical and theoretical sense. For Bishop, there was a certain sense of responsibility for getting it right. "It’s a big cast and a layered complex script of big ideas and small beautiful moments of humanity – elements that most directors aspire to work with – deserving a fine balance and an enormous amount or research," she explains." So I went to the boarding house where Williams lived in 1938 – 722 Toulouse Street in the French Quarter, and I threw myself into life in the city of New Orleans (that bit was not hard). With the design and the music we are striving to make Williams’ world when he was a sheltered, young unknown writer living in a city redolent of all the vices and joy New Orleans is known for."
Bishop was first introduced to the possibility of a collaboration with ITCH production through a meeting with Des Fleming (co creator ITCH productions and producer/actor Vieux Carre). Fleming had brought the play Catalpa to her. From ITCH’s inception in 2008 they both recognized a rare and generous collaboration, which has seen them make other works and tour.
Vieux Carre features an outstanding cast and some of Melbourne’s most talented blues musicians, as well as drawing on the rich musical traditions of New Orleans jazz and blues. Bishop hopes it will engender in the audience a desire to go to New Orleans as well as a love of Tennessee’s beautiful late play. She adds: "I don’t think anyone will fail to be touched by the characters in this piece and the glimpse of Tennessee’s beginnings. It’s a great story."
Vieux Carré 17 January to 3 February 2013.