Suddenly Last Summer (Red Stitch) – theatre review

Tennessee Williams’ one-act piece Suddenly Last Summer is intense and evocative. Vindictiveness is in play for an elderly mother who has lost her son.

Photo: Jodie Hutchinson

The year is 1936, and the place the garden district of New Orleans. The woman is Violet Venable (Jennifer Vuletic), who adored her son, Sebastian, a poet. Until the previous summer, she had travelled with him for the past 25 years. In her eyes, she was the only one who understood him and his needs. Each time they travelled, he produced a poem. Then last year Sebastian – who we never see – latched on to his female cousin, Catharine Holly (Kate Cole), and the pair forged a bond.

She became his new travelling companion. They ended up in Spain, but things turned ugly and he died in horrific circumstances. Now Mrs Venable has seen to it that Catharine has been institutionalised and had all manner of things done to her. Further, Mrs Venable prevails on a psychiatrist, Dr Cukrowicz, who likes to be called Sugar (Charles Purcell), to lobotomise Holly in exchange for a generous donation. Mrs Venable is out to shut Catharine up once and for all.

Catharine’s mother, Mrs Holly (Zoe Boesen) and brother, George (Harvey Zielinski), arrive. They’re also eager to suppress Catharine’s version of events because there is money at stake if she does. They implore her to change her tune. Then she finally reveals all to Mrs Venable and the doctor, courtesy of a truth serum. The facts are more ghastly than anyone could have imagined.

Suddenly Last Summer is a brilliantly constructed work in which patience is rewarded. How can one not admire Williams’ prose? The language is often florid and the performances, particularly those of Vuletic as the manipulative Mrs Venable and Cole as the traumatised Catharine, are mesmerising.

Photo: Jodie Hutchinson

I was just so “in the moment”, hanging on their every word as the tension built. And the staging … I was with the players in Violet Venable’s jungle garden setting, which was her dead son’s haven. Set and costume designer Eugyeene Teh has knocked it out of the park. Stephen Nicolazzo’s direction is detailed and exacting.

The result is a fine night of theatre – a sordid mystery that draws you in. Suddenly Last Summer is playing at Red Stitch Theatre until 4 November 2018.

Alex First

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