Camden Fringe 2023: A Caravan Named Desire at Camden People’s Theatre
Pick a card, any card – will you get lucky tonight? The audience enters a compact, box-like theatre clutching a playing card (the ticket) and a drink. A camping chair lies haphazardly on its side, alongside a strewn pair of shiny red heels and a scrunched leopard print scarf.
There is an immediate breaking of the fourth wall, as the audience are told that the actress playing the sex worker Krystal “hasn’t turned up”, and that the writer’s wife Helen will reluctantly step into the role. This creates an uncertainty in the space, which never quite seems to shift in the 60-minute performance. The protagonist and writer, Alexander, has decided to visit a sex worker, Krystal, to glean inspiration for his new play about sex. The concept is a “play within a play”, and the dialogue flits between a physical script, held by Helen, and extraneous dialogue between the married couple.
The story of how and why Krystal has come into sex work and how she actually feels about it is left unexplained, which feels confusing given the premise of the piece. Instead, the focus lies on Alexander’s masculinity and sexual experience – or lack thereof – and how his escalating fabrication of reality ultimately undermines both Helen and Krystal. Is this a comment on male artistic arrogance? Or a modern-day echo of the heavy chauvinism that pervades Tennessee Williams’ eponymous A Streetcar Named Desire? Reference to Krystal’s machismo “Uncle Stanley” suggests so, but links between the plays are left tantalisingly untapped.
For a “play about sex”, there is little detailed discussion of it, with more attention paid to the breakdown of the couple’s marriage. This translates to choppy interruptions from Helen – “They don’t care about that, get on with the scene!” – and mid-performance hissing from Alexander – “What do you mean it’s fizzled out between us?”. The awkward tension eventually reaches boiling point, but as with Krystal, the substance of their relationship is never truly explored, leaving more unsaid than enables a sustainable connection with the performers. If the play is not in fact about sex, but relationships and connection, the couple’s dialogue requires more context and development, and less cumbersome banter and superfluous interaction with the audience.
Overall, the two-hander touches on several compelling concepts but never quite settles on a point, leaving the audience more confused than sexually or societally enlightened. Nevertheless, thought-provoking discussion on the topics of male sexual identity and the responsibility of an artist is effectively prompted.
Image: Danny Fitzpatrick
A Caravan Named Desire is at Camden People’s Theatre from 8th until 12th August 2023. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.