Tennessee Williams’ plays may be dark, and to some extent dated, but he still has the power to shock and enthral. Here, Fox and Hound Theatre Company produce a one-act play which is an affront to femininity in a male dominated world. Written in 1946 but set in 1930, the play is a period piece about life in the cotton fields of America’s Mississippi Delta.
As so often in a Fringe play, there are only three characters: two gruff men and an innocent woman, whom the men see only as an object of their desire. The first man on stage is Mr Megan, a hard-working man of the land acted by Codge Crawford. He is the older, traditional man who believes that sex is an entitlement and his wife is his toy. Even more menacing is the Latino trader Silva, played by Steven Carruthers, for whom life is a battle he is determined to win after centuries of racial inequality and segregation.
Director and actor Helen Fox is excellent as Mrs Megan, the only innocent in the play. She is berated for not working and earning her keep, but I asked myself, what is she allowed to do in that society? She has no role to establish her identity, not even taking care of the house; having servants is a status symbol and, in the play, her husband conforms.
Mr Megan's problem is that he does not see his wife most of the time, except to insist that she does his bidding; Mrs Megan is his play-thing when the day’s work is done. His character injects suspense into the storyline, and guards his secrets very close to his chest. In Crawford's portrayal I sense he is capable of violence, cruel, almost out of control a lot of the time, and not afraid to threaten his wife if she dares to question his authority.
Sadly, but unsurprising in a play written in 1946, it is the Latino man who is the known villain of the piece: vindictive, angry, brutal and hell-bent on a path of destructive self-gratification. His motive does not excuse his behaviour. The play has an inexorable quality about it which makes it even more difficult to watch, but I did find myself questioning the assumptions underpinning the 70-year-old script and wishing the same scrutiny were applied to the white Mr Megan.
With its theme of sexual violence, 27 Wagons Full Of Cotton is intense and upsetting, but it is probably an accurate portrayal of life in 1930s America. The dated script troubled me at times, but the play is also a reminder that the world has moved on – and, I hope, it’s now a better place.