The programme reminds us that the world premier of this little known Tennessee Williams’ play was at Kilburn’s Cock Tavern in April this year. But after only three performances, Brent Council decided to close down the theatre for (surprise, surprise) health and safety reasons. As the director, Gene David Kirk, happens to be the artistic director of Jermyn Theatre, die-hard Williams’ fans should be relieved that they do not have to go without.
In A Cavalier for Milady, we meet a young woman, Nance, who wears a flower girl dress and whose hair is in pigtails. She is made to look and act like a child by her mother who constantly refers to her daughter as ‘the child’. Both mother and daughter indulge in sexual fantasies, albeit in different ways. Nance masturbates while fantasising about Vaslav Nijinsky, the acclaimed ballet dancer, while her mother and her equally rampant friend Mrs Aid, indulge in sexual escapades with male escorts – who also happen to fleece them of valuables in the course of their hedonistic evenings. On this particular evening, while mother and Mrs Aid are out doing what they do best, leaving Nance to a religious and strait laced Irish childminder, Nijinksy’s apparition – whose beauty is breathtaking – appears to Nance and they indulge in a ‘touch me, touch me not’ tease with both dance and words.
Caitlin Thorburn’s Nance is brittle, angry, sensual and sexual in equal part. Her encounter with Sam Marks’ Nijinsky is one of the most beautiful scenes in the play. Marks doesn’t let the intimate theatre space hinder him but moves and pirouettes gracefully as if he is on the Royal Opera House stage. The mother and Mrs Aid, played respectively by Janet Prince and Lucinda Curtis, are tediously camp. Admittedly their characters are past middle aged women seeking hedonistic pleasures at all costs but it is too easy to portray them as camp drag queens. At the same time and in fairness to them, Williams has not developed their characters beyond their love for debauchery.
We’re told that the play was borne out of Williams’ experience. Nance is based on Williams’ sister who was lobotomised by their mother after she claimed of being sexually abused by their father. It’s not an easy play and it certainly isn’t one of Williams’ masterpieces but Kirk’s subtle and sensitive production keeps us engaged throughout the 60 minutes. What it doesn’t do enough, however, is to lay on thick the sort of (even worse) shackled life that awaits Nance. That said, this play is worth watching, even for the non die-hard Williams’ fans.
Incidentally on the night I was there, one of the audience members got up 20 minutes into the production, walked towards the stage and disappeared. I don’t know if she left out of disgust or if, indeed, she had to desperately go to the lavatory (and if she did, she never came back out). Perhaps she wanted her own encounter with the beautiful Nijinsky backstage.
A Cavalier for Milady is on at the Jermyn Street Theatre until 25 June. Running time is approximately 60 minutes with no interval. For box office, call 020 7287 2875.