Directed by Kip Williams
Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House
Season: 14 February - 21 March
Tennessee Williams created a written work of art in writing 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.
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 pretense 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 inauthenticity of the events unravelling before them - that you 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 must be congratulated for the successful risk undertaken. The hand-held live camera footage produced a voyeuristic sense that ‘Big Brother’ was continually monitoring all activity, allowing the camera person 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. Should we constrain theatre in the pursuit of traditionalism and dwelling within familiar boundaries, I believe we have missed the point of theatre itself.