From 15th May to 10th June, the Ensemble Theatre brings Tennessee Williams’ gothic melodrama Suddenly Last Summer to the stage. And boy, they do it well.
The one-act play, written in New York in 1957, was said by Williams to be his ‘most poetic’ of work. It drips with poetic language, and the powerful, evocative performances from the entire cast are sure to enrapture any audience.
The story takes place amongst the flytraps and ferns in Sebastian Venable’s garden, where the tendrils of a sordid family secret are beginning to unfurl. We learn that Sebastian died mysteriously last summer, and that his mother Violet will do literally anything in her power to protect both his memory, and her own reputation. The only witness to what really happened was Sebastian’s young cousin Catharine, who is desperate to reveal the ugly truth, but Violet will go to any lengths to stop it from seeing the light of day.
The production is directed by Shaun Rennie, who helmed Baby Doll at the Ensemble in 2019, and was keen to sink his teeth into another Tennessee Williams classic, as he loves Williams’ ability to use beautiful poetic language for dark – in some cases, nightmarish – examinations of the human experience.
Vibrant, funny, and beautiful, Williams’ gothic masterpiece takes us into the poetic world of redemption and love, shadowed by the dark secrets a family can hold.
The play explores the lengths to which ‘civilised society’ often goes, to keep unspeakable truths from coming to the surface. It depicts power, wealth, and privilege, juxtaposed alongside trauma, gas-lighting and manipulation of truth. It is indeed, as terrifyingly relevant today as when it was written over 60 years ago.
The tight, talented cast has Andrea Demetriades as the agent of truth Catharine Holly, and Belinda Giblin as the complex Ms Violet Venable. They are joined by Remy Hii as Dr ‘Sugar’ Cukrowicz, Valerie Bader as Mrs Holly, Socratis Otto as George Holly, and Kate Skinner who plays both Miss Foxhill and also Sister Felicity – all of whom deliver exquisite, masterful performances, that pulled me deep into their world.
The steeply raked seating in the Ensemble Theatre wraps around three quarters of the stage, necessitating a comparatively simple set. The design for this production was therefore low-tech, but also ethereal, otherworldly, and highly effective. The lighting and sound (eerie, near-constant background music that built tension throughout) was also impeccable.
I experienced real edge-of-the-seat tension, and was rooting for Catharine throughout. As for what happens at the end: that would be telling. You’ll have to go and see for yourselves!
Suddenly Last Summer runs for 90 minutes (no interval) and plays at Ensemble Theatre until 10 June 2023. Tickets are available through the Ensemble Theatre Box Office.
Jonathan Leeming is a passionate wine marketer who lives and breathes wine. He writes about wine and culture and hosts wine events in his free time. Jonathan holds a Diploma in Wines and a French Wine Scholar certification, is a member of Mensa and a hardcore dog lover. You can follow him at @jpleeming, LinkedIn, and Vivino.
Disclosure: The Plus Ones were invited guests of Kabuku PR.
Image credits: Jaimi Joy.