Suddenly Last Summer
- Allan Radcliffe
- 30 October 2008
Tennessee Williams’ Suddenly Last Summer is the theatrical equivalent of a shot in the arm from a hypodermic needle, a visceral cocktail of madness, repressed sexuality and cannibalism all played out against the sweltering New Orleans heat. It’s also notoriously difficult to stage, its poetic, symbolism-packed gothic horror walking a fine line between melodrama and grotesque farce.
Despite the distraction of a stylised set, which overstates the claustrophobic symbolism of Sebastian’s jungle-like garden and threatens to literally put the performers into the shade, Andy Arnold’s production for the Tron as part of Glasgay! succeeds, largely because the two leads, whose virtually unbroken monologues bookend the play, avoid the shrillness and mannerisms that have reduced many a Williams heroine to the level of caricature.
Morag Stark opens the play strongly as the formidable Violet Venable, her civilised veneer gradually giving way to embittered, violent rage as she rails against her niece Catharine Holly’s version of the events that led up to her beloved son Sebastian’s violent death in faraway Cabeza de Lobo. Mrs Venable dominates this portion of the play: supporting characters, such as Catharine’s vulgar, beholden mother and brother, and Dr Cukrowitz, who is called upon by the matriarch to lobotomise Catharine in order to prevent her spreading her horrific story, are largely functional roles.
It’s in the final segment of the play, however, in which Catharine, under the influence of a truth serum provides her case for the defence, that Arnold’s production catches fire, Clare Yuille’s compelling combination of fragility and vulnerability drawing us to the edge of our seats as she imparts her bizarre, terrifying tale.
Tron Theatre, Glasgow, until Sat 8 Nov