Suddenly Last Summer
By Tennessee Williams
Directed by Kip Williams Sydney Theatre Company
Pier 4, Hickson Road, Walsh Bay
Season until March 21. Duration: 1 hr 30 mins (no interval). For last
minute ticket releases on the day, call Sydney Opera House Box Office on (02) 9250 7777. Standing room tickets for $35 each - only available to purchase by calling STC Box Office on (02) 9250 1777 or Sydney Opera House Box Office on (02) 9250 7777.
Tennessee Williams created a written work of art in Suddenly Last Summer for its first performance in 1958. Subsequently, crafting the piece on stage is a formidable task, creating high audience expectations and leaving no space for mediocrity.
Thankfully, the Sydney Theatre Company production of Suddenly Last Summer did not disappoint - it was nothing short of a masterpiece.
Cathy Holly, a poor relation of a prominent New Orleans family, seems to be insane after her cousin Sebastian dies under mysterious circumstances on a trip to Europe. Sebastian's mother, Violet Venable, trying to cloud the truth about her son's death.
The tension of mystery was cunningly built and maintained to constantly keep the pulse of the piece beating. Eryn Jean Norvill’s portrayal of Cathy was particularly compelling, and rendered the audience ambiguous to her reliability - at points sympathising with her, at others marvelling at her madness.
Robyn Nevin as the venerable Violet Venable is a powerhouse. She exhibits Violet’s paradoxical position, at the mercy of a truth threatening to spoil the root of her power – social acceptability.
Director, Kip Williams, masterfully interwove all elements of drama to heighten audience awareness of the pretence in the play, the presentation of a more socially acceptable manufactured ‘truth’.
This was achieved through the momentary unveilings of reality, be it the camera people visibly navigating the stage to capture the live media projected on the wall, or the actors cowering side stage, surrounded by lighting framework. The audience was continually reminded of the unauthenticity of the events unravelling before them - that they were, indeed, watching a play.
Period costuming and props kept the piece in touch with reality, yet the hyper-saturated New Orleans jungle and stark white expanses of backdrop distorted any sense of realism.
Notably, this decision is in line with Tennessee Williams’ stage directions in the play, admiring Chekhov’s realism yet wanting to blur the lines between the real and the surreal.
The use of media is inextricable from this production and the technicians must be congratulated for the successful risk undertaken. The hand-held live camera footage produced a sense that ‘Big Brother’ was continually monitoring all activity, allowing the camera operator to virtually take on a character role themselves.
I have heard murmurs of people’s disappointment when they expected to witness ‘live theatre’ and yet felt as if they were watching a film.
I don’t believe the use of media detracted from the theatre experience whatsoever. Moreover, I perceived this clever use of media to add another dimension to the piece, presenting a contemporary interpretation of Tennessee Williams’ work.
If we constrain theatre in the pursuit of traditionalism and dwelling within familiar boundaries, I believe we have missed the point of theatre itself.