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Suddenly Last Summer

Category: Suddenly Last Summer Reviews
Article Date: April 22, 1999 | Publication: The Stage | Author: Peter Hepple

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A startling setting by Tim Hatley, which gives the impression that the Garden District of New Orleans has turned into Jurassic Park, and eerie music by Jason Carr to accompany the rolls of thunder and flashes of lightning, promise well for Tennessee Williams' rarely performed play.

Enter Mrs Venable, one of Williams' monstrous mothers, hysterically lamenting the loss, a year previously, of her son Sebastian while the sympathetic doctor listens patiently. She, it transpires, blames his death on his cousin Catharine, who went with him to Cabezo de Lobo, where he met a violent death which so traumatised the girl that she has been confined to an institution ever since.

But as the play proceeds, it becomes obvious that it is far from one of Williams' best. The setting, the sound effects and the hate-filled personality of Mrs Venable are much more satisfactory than the plot, which brings the mother face to face with the girl, while in the background are the figures of her mother and brother, anxious that they should not lose the share of his wealth which Sebastian bequeathed to them.

The climactic episode has Catharine relating what she knows of Sebastian's death, that he was attacked and eaten by a group of young native boys to whom he had presumably been making homosexual advances, but there are also hints of incest and other matters which, more than anything, demonstrate the state of Williams' mind when he wrote it.

Fortunately, he went on to produce better pieces than this slice of Grand Guignol, though it cannot be denied that it has thumping good roles for older and younger actresses and both Sheila Gish and Rachel Weisz rise to the occasion.

Gish is all malevolence and physical decay as Mrs Venable, avoiding the temptation to topple over into sheer melodrama, and Weisz confirms her position as one of Britain's finest younger performers as the terror-struck girl, making us wonder whether her account is true or whether she too is the victim of the strain of madness which has afflicted both Sebastian and his mother.

The other roles are shadowy, though Gerard Butler impresses in the underwritten part of the doctor, and Sean Mathias pulls out all the stops in his direction of a curiously unsatisfying play.

Copyright 1999 The Stage Newspapers Ltd


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