Suddenly Last Summer Review 1999

Thursday, 29 April, 1999

Sean Mathias, the director, has bought together a formidable cast for this revival with the likes of Sheila Gish, who won an Olivier Award for her performance in Sondheim's "Company" at the Donmar Warehouse a couple of years ago, and Rachel Weisz who has appeared in the Donmar Warehouse's production of "Design For Living" directed by Sean Mathias. Rachel has also had a succession of leading roles in feature films such as Bertolucci's "Stealing Beauty", David Leland's "The Land Girls" and Michael Winterbottom's "I Want You".

The story is set in New Orleans in the summer of 1936 in the garden of 'Violet Venable'. It is here that 'Mrs Venable' attempts to find out the truth of her son's death from her niece 'Catherine', the only witness to her son's savage murder. Although ' Mrs Venable' has already heard the story that 'Catherine' had told, she cannot believe the savagery of it and thinks she is lying. Therefore she has arranged for a doctor who deals with experimental medicine to attend the meeting with Catherine and decide if a Lobotomy may be performed on 'Catherine' to remove this savage tale.

This drama is very disturbing and is not for the faint hearted. It says in the program notes that Tennessee Williams was in crises when he wrote this play in 1957. His father had just died and he was undergoing intensive psychoanalysis. Well, it seems Williams was hitting out in his writing when he wrote this play which contains insanity, cannibalism, and violent imagery. This is without doubt one of the most powerful plays of the century that reaches a devastating end in the description of the agonising death of Mrs Venable's son, Sabastian, at Cabezo de Lobo.

Sheila Gish as 'Mrs Venable', gives a performance worthy of another Olivier Award. She plays the beastly 'Mrs Venable', who was obsessed by her son to the point of verging on incest, totally convincingly. Her portrayal was particularly despairing at the point in the play where 'Mrs Venable' heard the news that her son was gay and had used her to attract young men whom he later seduced without her knowing. She also produces a harrowing performance at the scene when hearing the nature of 'Sabastian's' violent death. Without a doubt Sheila Gish pulls off this frightening role with potent skill and prevalence. Rachel Weisz had the incredibly difficult job of playing 'Catherine', Sabastian's cousin, who suffered a breakdown after witnessing his terrible death. However, she too pulls off her tortured role with great skill with an impressive performance that leaves you despairing for her as she starts to break up while re-telling her story whilst everyone around her, including her own mother and brother, try to persuade her to change her story.

The play received mixed reviews from the popular press. NICHOLAS DE JONGH of the EVENING STANDARD says, "A true theatrical sensation." BENEDICT NIGHTINGALE of the TIMES says, "Williams had the human sympathy and metaphysical scope to look cruelty in the face - and make an unforgettable parable out of pain." THE DAILY MAIL says, "Although Sean Mathias's production is a little shrill as yet, you know you are in the presence of a theatrical poet of the first rank. " THE INDEPENDENT was a little disappointed with this production saying, "With emotions and motives laid bare from the start, everything peaks too soon, putting a strain on the play's rising emotional arc." THE GUARDIAN was not too impressed either saying, "Rachel Weisz as Catharine has a peaches-and-cream beauty but hardly suggests a girl haunted by a dark secret; this is a character on the edge of madness...."

Lasting an hour and a half with no interval and an awesome set design by Tim Hatley, that had a tropical garden look that was very scary looking, "Suddenly Last Summer" is a powerful nightmarish play that will certainly have an impact on you.

Go see it now!

(Darren Dalglish)

I swore I wasn't going to see a matinee but decided to go ahead.  I'm getting too old to cram shows in on the same day I arrive as I have a hard time staying awake especially after an uncomfortable flight.  Fortunately, the flight was on time so I decided what the hell.  My first choice was to Good at the Donmar Warehouse but they were sold out.  I decided to see this show by Tennessee Williams at the Comedy Theatre.  It was mercifully only 90 minutes.  Suddenly, Last Summer is an interesting story about power and maternal love.  Mrs. Venable played by Sheila Gish has been replaced in her son's life by a new companion, Catharine (Rachel Wiesz who I had previously seen in Design for Living) and Mrs. Venable is determined to wreak violent revenge.  The play is directed by Sean Mathias.  Now TW is not one of my favorite playwrights.  I find most of his work to be on the slow side, something I really don't need when I'm sleepy.  However, Sean draws the viewer in with his steady di! rection and it held my interest.  Sheila Gish and Rachel Wiesz were very good and the set was very interesting.  It consisted of the back porch of a large home and all the flora and fauna were made out of wooden sculptures and carvings which I found to be very inventive. 

Rodney R Anderson

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