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A CurtainUp London Review
Summer and Smoke

"I'm more afraid of your soul than you're afraid of my body."
— John
Summer and Smoke
Matthew Needham as John and Patsy Ferran as Alma
(Photo: Marc Brenner)
I am not always convinced by the plays which delight younger critics where the European vogue allows the director to remodel or rewrite the original so as to deliver (hopefully) a more aesthetic interpretation concentrating on the emotions of the characters. Proponents of this style are famously the Belgian director Ivo van Hove and our own Robert Icke.

I have seen Summer and Smoke before, reviewed here by my daughter in 2006. The first difference to strike me is the way in which the surrounding characters are diminished, merged with actors doubling in roles, both fathers Alma's and John's by Forbes Masson and Alma's mother and the gossipy Mrs Bassett by Nancy Crane. This lessens somehow the oppression that the restrictive society in the Bible belt South has on the characters. There is no way that Patsy Ferran's Alma could be described like Rosamund Pike as "slightly neurotic". From the very first scene in this production, when Alma bathed in golden light, stands in front of a microphone, on a stage bare, except for the pianos, and convulses either in a fit of panic or orgasmic rapture, we are watching someone who is suffering emotionally and desperately.

The various women parading in front of John Buchanan (Matthew Needham) interest in are Nellie, Rosa, Rosemary and Pearl played by Anjana Vassan who becomes a force for sexual awakening and opposite to R nine at the original Almeida production in March this year) and the cast not speaking play Angus Macae's music, often discordant and matched to the emotional intensity of the situation.

What is outstanding is Patsy Ferran's performance as Alma the minister's daughter who decides to release her sexual potential too late as Dr John's journey is one towards redemption, which has him marrying someone else. She is brittle and agonised, tragic and trapped in the oppressive heat of summer. Patsy Ferran is pretty sure to be among the best actress nominations as the awards season starts.

For more about Tennessee Williams and links to his plays reviewed at Curtainup,including Summer and Smoke, see the Williams page in our Playwrights Album.

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Summer and Smoke
Written by Tennessee Williams
Directed by Rebecca Frecknall
Starring: Patsy Ferran, Nancy Crane, Forbes Masson, Matthew Needham, Anjana Vasan
With: Seb Carrington, Eric MacLennan, Tok Stephen
Design: Tom Scutt
Composer: Angus MacRae
Sound Design: Carolyn Downing
Lighting Design: Lee Curran
Running time: Two hours 40 minutes with an interval
Box Office: 0844 871 7615
Booking to 19th January 2019
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 20th November 2018 performance at the Duke of York's, St Martin's Lane London WC2N 4BG (Rail/Tube: Charing Cross)
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