Cabeza De Lobo may be a lovely Spanish town, but what happened there certainly was not and the intrigue that surrounds it will have you on the edge of your seat for the entire one act play. The captivating STC production of Tennessee Williams' Suddenly, Last Summer opened our theatrical season in 2015 with a resounding bang. Whilst anything by Tennessee Williams will undoubtedly reside in the shadow of the Street Car Named Desire masterpiece, this production of Suddenly, Last Summer stands proudly on its own two feet.
As the stern matriarch of a prominent New Orleans' family, Violet Veneble is attempting to quiet the vulgar rumours that are spreading about the death of her son, Sebastian. A charismatically urbane poet, he is her pride and joy and she will stop at nothing to get his loose-lipped cousin Catherine from ruining their family name. As she is the only witness to the happenings of his death last summer, Violet intends to get her out of the way by claiming she is deranged and hoping to have her lobotomised. Caught in the middle with a difficult task is Dr. Cukrowicz (Dr Sugar), who is called to determine if she is, in fact, unhinged. Catherine herself is clearly traumatised by the events and does not wish to divulge their horrific nature, but as always - truth will out.
This central cast form a trinity of theatrical quality. Robyn Nevin shines as the affluent Violet Veneble, oozing an inimitable charisma, but with claws. She reigns supreme not only over the stage, but each character, as she manipulates those around her to her own ends. Tenaciously attempting to preserve her roseate memory of her beloved son, Nevin provides the unparalleled nuance of a seasoned performer. Yet, nipping at her heels comes the zeal of young blood as newcomer Eryn Jean Norvill enthrals the audience as the disturbed Catherine. Constantly captivating as the young hysteric, she plays off each character to perfection, adroitly encapsulating Catherine's mania without falling into the trap of overacting. Rounding out this trio is the veritable Montgomery Clift of the STC stage. Mark Leonard Winter echoes the dazzling looks of the acclaimed film star as 'Dr Sugar' who we believe has the final word in this dramatic saga. Winter brings a subtle dynamism to the role, aiding along this storytelling experience without overshadowing the leading ladies.
On the other hand, the supporting cast cannot claim to be quite as compelling. With Susan Prior as Mrs Holly, Brandon McClelland as Holly's brother (both relatives after their share of Sebastian's inheritance) and Melita Jurisic as Violet's nurse, all three seemed to fall flat next to the central cast. Seemingly unable to meet their rhythm and often discordant with their dialogue, many of the choices made served to dull the performance slightly. The one exception in the supporting cast was Paula Arundell, who proficiently performed the piety of Sister Felicity (Catherine's carer).
As intended by Williams, this play echoes the Greek tragedy The Bacchae by Euripidies and highlights the issue of predation. Throughout the performance we see the constant motif of devouring as characters in turn use others to get what they desire. Forming a vicious cycle of consumption, we see Violet offering a bribe to Dr Sugar and threatening to cut off Catherine's family if she cannot be quieted. Yet it goes further back than this, beginning with Sebastian as he utilised his mother's social circle to obtain the company of young men and when she could no longer do so, he cast her aside and turned to Catherine. However, coming full circle in a karmic denouement, it is ultimately Sebastian himself who most falls prey to this principle.
Now, one can't ignore the cinematic elephant on the stage. Camera work? In the theatre? 'Blasphemy!', I hear you shout. Yet, let us not dismiss this pushing of the envelope too soon.In the battle between terrible and triumphant, it is triumphant that wins out today. The theatrical pure bloods out there will scoff and turn up their noses at such a display, but this writer welcomes the attempted pastiche. Although it wasn't utilised effectively at every turn (often becoming overly intrusive), on the whole it was a success and added to the drama that Williams' script inspires. Rather than innovation for innovation's sake, director Kip Williams has clearly understood the function of the camera in this vein and the moments of panning perfectly punctuate the secret's suspense.
Not quite knowing what I was in for at the start of the evening, I left on a high of theatrical thrills. If nothing else, this production is a compelling argument for screens on stage (when used correctly). The pitfall here is to take one successful production and think that this blending of media is suitable for all works, which it most certainly is not. The measured selection of works with which to experiment is the only way forward that will ensure this crossing over can continue to be successful. Despite the small setbacks, this production was a thrill from start to finish. Suddenly, Last Summer will excite you, but also make you think twice about those around you. After all, remember: 'the Venus flytrap (is) a devouring organism, aptly named for the goddess of love'.