Actor in Aussie premiere of lost Tennessee Williams play

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Not About Nightingales actors Andre Rodrigues, left, Simon Lokan, Chris Kennedy, Alec Fuderer, Josh McGee, Curig Jenkins, Phil Barnett, Rex Gray and Lliam Gregory.

ACTOR Chris Kennedy is next month appearing in the Australian premiere of a Tennessee Williams play, which was lost for 60 years.

Directed by Sarah Christiner, Not About Nightingales is based on the true story of a prison scandal that shocked the US in the mid-1930s.

Inmates went on a hunger strike due to poor conditions and were locked in steam-heated cells as punishment.

The focus is on the politics of prison life, told through a love story, compelling dialogue, power-corrupted officials and the human condition.

Playwright Williams is most famous for A Streetcar Named Desire, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and The Glass Menagerie, among his more than 100 plays.

Originally written in 1938, the first performance of Not About Nightingales was not until 1998 in London after actress Vanessa Redgrave tracked it down.

It moved to Broadway a year later and picked up six Tony Awards, including best play.

Kennedy, who is a plasterer, plays Jim “The Canary” Allison, a prisoner who is also the warden’s assistant.

“He’s despised by the other prisoners due to his position within the prison,” he said.

“Jim is a very tightly wound-up individual who is doing all he can to survive his stay in prison – but things are not made easy for him.

“The main challenge is maintaining the tension and carrying it throughout the show while also displaying the wide range of emotions he experiences.

“I feel confident with the role and hope the audience will enjoy the show as much as I’m enjoying it.”

After taking acting classes in 2017, Kennedy dove headfirst into auditioning for everything he could and has since appeared with Stirling, Garrick, Melville and Limelight Theatres and Life on Hold Productions in ’Allo ’Allo!, Beyond A Joke, Fairytale of Sorts, A Clockwork Orange, Lady Willpower, Cash on Delivery and Star Quality.

“I was keen to work with Life on Hold Productions again because the company always puts on great shows,” he said.

“Director Sarah Christiner is very talented and always manages to put together a good cast.

“I would have happily done any role offered to me but was thrilled to get the part of Jim.”

Christiner described Tennessee Williams as one of her favourite playwrights but had not heard of Not About Nightingales until discovering it the State Library last year.

“The play is episodic and bounces between locations in the prison with each scene announced as if it was a newspaper article,” she said.

“It’s not a happy story but I believe it ends with hope – it’s open to interpretation what happens to the characters at the end.

“The idea of trying to bring this prison experience, based on real events, to life excited me and offered new creative opportunities.”

Tennessee Williams’ Not About Nightingales plays at 7.30pm on September 11, 12, 15, 17, 18, 19, 21, 23, 25 and 26.