Review: Suddenly Last Summer

A burning hot late night treat at the Corpus Playroom.

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Suddenly Last Summer narrates the mystery of Sebastian Venable’s death whilst on holiday with his cousin Catherine (Phoebe Segals). However, having since been institutionalized in an insane asylum, her story finds little credence among Sebastian’s mother Violet (Maya Achan), who must hence come to terms that the truth of her son is far more shocking than she once presumed.

Maya Anchou as Violet: ‘enthralling’. [Credit: Johannes Hjorth]

Tennessee Williams’ play is not an easy one to perform. It is only one act long, is full of lengthy monologues and duologues, and, instead of the conventional flashbacks, the tension arises from characters telling the story in the present looking back at the past. In the wrong hands, this could easily have become monotonous and tedious, yet in this production Sebastian – despite never speaking a line – is brought to life, and the audience’s interest is kept riveted throughout.

This is a credit to the direction and acting. Maya Achan as Violet was a standout. Able to expertly convey the subtle minutiae one associates with dotage, she took the audience through a wide range of emotions with a nuance that was incredibly enthralling to watch. This is all the more impressive considering the confliction of her character: a mother who has been prematurely bereft of her son, yet who is revealed to be a product of a society that refuses to accept, and in fact actively ignores, his darkest secret, which arguably leads him on his path to destruction.

Similarly, Catherine evokes both sympathy and disgust, and Phoebe Segals could easily have fallen into the trap of overacting her hysterical, somewhat insane nature. However, her masterfully dignified initial restraint ensured that when her character did finally break down, it was all the more powerful. It felt like I was watching performances on the last night rather than the first, and can only anticipate the heights that the actors will go on to achieve during the run.

Phoebe Segals played Catherine with dignified restraint [Johannes Hjorth]

Nevertheless, the production is not without its flaws. The lighting design was rather bizarre, often interchanging between spotlights focused solely on Catherine, which put the characters she was in conversation with into darkness. Likewise, the randomly interspersed background drumming detracted from the severity of the play’s most intense scenes. I can only assume this was to enhance the audience’s emotions, but the ability of the actors alone was suffice to ensure this.

The audience is taken through a rollercoaster of emotions. [Johannes Hjorth]

Suddenly Last Summer is centered around a mother who cannot relinquish her son, both when alive and dead. In many ways, the audience mirrors her experience; I too found it difficult to let go of the profound greatness of what I had watched long after leaving the theatre.