‘These seemingly fragile people are the strong people really,” said American playwright Tennessee Williams, whose lesser known one-act plays are the subject of a powerful production by Fox and Hound Theatre.

A Trio of Tennessee Williams came to the Theatre Royal in Dumfries on April 5, featuring three plays – Ivan’s Widow, Talk To Me Like The Rain and Let Me Listen, and 27 Wagons Full of Cotton – all of which have an apparently fragile, but ultimately strong, woman at their centre.

Exploring themes of mental and physical cruelty and abuse, poverty and mental illness, this was a hard watch at times, and definitely not uplifting Friday night entertainment. But with such powerful performances by the cast of three – Codge Crawford, Helen Fox and Massimiliano Acerbi – it was stimulating, absorbing and thought provoking.

Fox and Hound believes it is the only theatre company in the UK to have performed Ivan’s Widow, a later Williams play set in a psychiatrist’s office in 1950s America. A widow is struggling with the reality of her husband’s death, seeking help from a cold, predatory doctor.

Great British Life: Helen Fox and Sassi Acerbi in Ivan's WidowHelen Fox and Sassi Acerbi in Ivan's Widow (Image: Craig Fuller)

Acerbi plays this character with creepy menace and the sinister lighting enhances the widow’s nightmarish state of mind, leading to a sense of suspense and tension throughout.

Talk To Me Like The Rain and Let Me Listen is like two poetic monologues strung together by a husband and wife living in poverty in 1930s New York. He escapes into drunken scrapes while she stays home, neglected and impoverished, escaping into fantasies of a new life by the sea.

Crawford and Fox perfectly portray this couple’s hopeless cycle of deprivation and their inability to change anything.

After a quick, and clever, scene reconstruction by the cast in the interval, 27 Wagons Full of Cotton brings a fascinating woman centre stage. The wife of a cruel, abusive cotton gin (engine) owner, she seems naïve and childlike, happy in a strange way with her dysfunctional relationship.

She quickly draws the audience into her confidence, so we feel protective and emotionally invested, and horrified, at what happens to her in the end.

Playing all three of these challenging, raw female characters, Helen Fox has admirable bravery, skill and stamina. At a Q&A after the show, she said: “It’s a gift to play these roles. Sadly, so much has not changed for women. It’s really important to continue to talk about these things.”

Great British Life: Helen Fox in Talk To Me Like The Rain and Let Me ListenHelen Fox in Talk To Me Like The Rain and Let Me Listen (Image: Craig Fuller)

Director Ellie Stevens said she was interested in feminist theatre and found these three plays worked well as a trio, covering the spectrum of women’s issues.

Commenting on Tennessee Williams’ brilliance as a playwright, Codge said: “He wrote fantastically strong, seemingly weak, women…and pretty horrible men.”

The production has toured various venues throughout the UK.