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A CurtainUp London Review
Suddenly Last Summer
by Lizzie Loveridge
Much of Suddenly Last Summer is autobiographical. Tennessee Williams' own sister Rose was operated on and underwent a pre-frontal lobotomy in 1943. He, like Sebastian, was homosexual. His personal experience must be what makes the writing so exceptionally searing as he deals with issues of mental health and the threat of institutionalisation. The long descriptive passages are mesmerising as Mrs Venable talks about her summers with her attractive poet son. She describes the sea turtle coming ashore to lay its eggs, in a contrasting picture of motherhood. Without maternal protection, the sea turtle hatchlings are picked off by devouring black birds.
Dame Diana Rigg as Mrs Venable, using a rasping, husky, Southern voice, her face still beautiful with those amazing cheekbones, her silky hair waved and white, she describes to Doctor Cukrowicz (Mark Bazeley) the loss of her only child, Sebastian. The spider parallels come to the fore as Rigg hunched in a wheel chair like a tarantula sets up the web to ensnare the fly, Catharine Holly (Victoria Hamilton), the poor cousin whom she holds responsible for Sebastian's death. Worse, Catharine has been giving a version as to how Sebastian died and Mrs Venable wants her silenced or at least lobotomised so that she is not believed. Rigg's performance as the controlling, suffocating mother is as tragic as she is malicious. Mrs Venable ruthlessly uses her money to buy accomplices to undermine Catharine. We debate as to whether she knows the truth about her son or whether she is in denial. Possession is what is important to her, "He was MINE", she bellows.
Victoria Hamilton as Catharine is nervous and quivering with emotion. She is a slight figure in a figure hugging black suit, she lacks stability but ultimately not courage as she gulps out her story. "I can't change truth", she says. To the fore, she is under a spotlight as the other figures fade, partially obscured by dry ice. Her family are self seeking and frivolous, her silly mother (Abigail McKern) and her fatuous brother (Patrick Kennedy) are only interested in the Venable inheritance. Mark Bazeley as the doctor is the judge, his verdict will decide who is ultimately right.
This production is very much in the hands of the two women, Rigg and Hamilton. It is more about their excellent performances than it is about New Orleans atmosphere, despite the screeches of the parakeets, but it involves in a powerful way. Adam Cork's score is very dramatic and thunderous. The messages are not subtle or understated, this is 1930s Southern life in full technicolour, gory and painful, as devouring as any spider and if you escape the spider's web, the Venus Fly Trap will get you.
LINK to our review of a production of Tennessee Williams' play in the Berkshires
Suddenly Last Summer
Mendes at the Donmar
Peter Ackroyd's History of London: The Biography
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co. Click image to buy.
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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