Suddenly Last Summer

Venue: The Drama Barn
Run: 25th-27th November 2011
Directed by: Sophia Steiger
Produced by: Makoto Kawaguchi
Rating: ***

This production of Tennessee Williams’ stark and highly poetic one-act play is impressive, yet displayed regrettable moments of weakness.
Following the mysterious death of Sebastian Venable in Cabeza de Lobo, we encounter his two female companions, his mother Violet, and his cousin Catharine. Catharine, the only witness of her cousin’s death, tries to convince her family and a mental health specialist of her violent story, as Violet assiduously fights to keep the truth of her son’s death hidden.

Henrietta Mitchell’s portrayal of Violet Venable must be generously applauded. Her depiction of the appealingly sardonic old woman in combination with the flawless physicality she adopted, rendered Mitchell’s performance a highlight of the production. Her counterpart, Catharine, played by Fran Isherwood, created a satisfying contrast and the two worked well opposite one another. Isherwood’s Catharine was highly engaging and enigmatic, and though at moments her speech lacked spontaneity, she tirelessly conveyed the nerves and terror that consumed her character.

Admittedly, Ross Cronshaw’s Dr. Cukrowicz, or Dr. Sugar, took a little time to develop, but his portrayal of authority shone once it had done so, and by the end of the play appeared to be the only sane character left. The supporting performance of Colette Eaton as Catharine’s mother, Mrs Holly was also enjoyable. In earlier moments of the play, she naturalistically portrayed the nervous optimism of her role, whilst later on demonstrating, virtually silently, the fear and embarrassment of her character.

Unfortunately there were moments of clumsiness, which are to be expected on the first night. The awkward entrances and exits, the uncomfortably timed moments of aggression, and some nervousness from members of the supporting cast would probably not have been there had it been the second or third performance.
My main criticism, however, focuses upon a single moment. Much like the characters, the audience is held in anticipation for the majority of the play, but when the circumstances of Sebastian’s death were revealed I was left underwhelmed by the truth, which is surprising considering its abhorrent nature. More weight needs to be given to this key moment of the play, whether that’s in its deliverance or its reception, otherwise, the impetus of the piece is lost.

I really enjoyed Sophia Steiger’s production and the subtleties she brought to it; the muted palette of the play’s aesthetic, in contrast with the red dress of the “mad” Catharine and the eerie use of the silhouette in the window, but great moments like these made the weaker elements of the play all the more frustrating.

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