The shipyard painter, political activist and razor-sharp cartoonist Bob Starrett has just written a new book The Way I See It on his eventful life and times. Below we reprint one of his stories and review an essential read
THE chirrup of cicadas, hanging vines that gently sway and lazy jazz notes immediately pitch the audience into the humid atmosphere of the Deep South in the US.
Its swamp-like atmosphere is heightened by the partially submerged set, a perfectly recreated 1950s bedroom with galleries and doors leading off into a mansion house.
These details provide an accessible route into the claustrophobia contained within Tennessee Williams's classic of familial tensions, repressed homosexuality and fertility.
Yet the outside world also intrudes as servants buzz around, offstage phone conversations take place and fireworks blaze.The Russian-doll set designs are echoed in this version of the play, assembled from three different drafts of Williams's original script by director Sarah Esdaile
The first of three acts centres on Maggie "the Cat" (Zoe Boyle), who raises the temperature by wearing little more than a slip and bold red lipstick. Rattling out words like gunfire, her desperate chatter is contrasted with that of failed sportsman-turned-commentator Brick (Jamie Parker), silently brooding as he hobbles on a crutch back and forth from the drinks cabinet.
His is a brilliant portrayal of a drunk waiting for the "click" as he shamelessly grovels for another fix.
Their troubled relationship is echoed later by Big Mama (Amanda Boxer) and Big Daddy (Richard Cordery). He exasperatedly wonders why it is "so damn difficult" for people to talk? Yet as the play develops, it becomes clear that the problem isn't being able to talk but the inability to listen and communicate meaningfully.
Big Daddy and Brick fail to recognise their similarities - marriages held together by lies and repression engendered by intimations of mortality and homosexuality respectively.
They talk in riddles until devastating truths emerge and at this point one wonders whether the lies aren't a better form of truth.
These emotional crises are underscored by natural disorder - a thunderstorm brekas out as the family argues and the Brick and Maggie's "no-necked monster" nieces and nephews appear in pivotal scenes where their lack of offspring is touched on.
In their anxiety, none of the play's characters are likeable. But the quality of the writing means that it's easy to empathise with each one as this able cast, rising to the demands of the script, deliver an emotionally draining tour de force.
Runs until October 27. Box office: (0113) 213-770.