Summer and Smoke at Almeida. Matthew Needham (John Buchanan and Patsy Ferran (Alma). Photo credit Marc Brenner. (13)

REVIEW: “Expert direction, stunning design and some truly wonderful performances” ★★★★★ Summer and Smoke, The Duke Of York’s Theatre

Tennessee Williams is know for his tense and invigorating work, but Summer and Smoke has never been held in the same esteem as his more famous plays like Cat On A Hot Tin Roof and A Streetcar Named Desire. But Rebecca Frecknall’s production, which was a sell out success at the Almeida might go somewhere to remedy that.

And quite apart from the fact that this is a very different and fresh take on the text, it can mostly be attributed to the central performance from the outstanding Patsy Ferran. From beginning to end Ferran’s Alma, a repressed and confused preachers daughter, is a torrent of torment. It’s a hugely impressive portrayal, which makes the pull between high morals and adolescent desires obvious and yet never overdone. There’s just the right amount of subtle comedy pared with a wide-eyed naivety to make Alma easy to adore. She is matched well by a brooding Matthew Needham, who masterfully meanders through the complexities of the young doctor John.

And I must talk about the pianos, which form part of the set enveloping the action, expertly engineered throughout by the exquisite ensemble. I’ve never knowingly seen or heard the strings of a piano bowed before and the underscoring effect is both eerie and electrifying.

This production of Summer and Smoke really cements the idea that taking another look at texts that have previously been cast aside is well worth it. With expert direction, stunning design and some truly wonderful performances, this is a must see this season.

Summer and Smoke is running at the Duke Of York’s Theatre until 19 January 2019. 

Photo by Marc Brenner

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REVIEW: A “cheesy dance-fest” ★★ Dirty Dancing, The New Wimbledon Theatre

I must one of the few people who grew up in the 80s to have never watched Dirty Dancing all the way through. I’ve tried to a couple of times because when you say you haven’t a collective gasp rings around a room, but the action has never managed to engage me for more than about 10 minutes. The live stage show would be different though right? Sadly not. It turns out that the reason I’ve never been able to engage with this widely beloved story is because it’s really quite naff! The current touring production, which is running at the New Wimbledon Theatre this week blatantly highlights the huge gaps in the plot of this cheesy dance-fest, while bizarrely trying to replicate the movie’s most famed scenes.

It’s a strange one; electric dance routines expertly performed by an exuberant cast, but woven together with some of the most awful script, direction and acting I’ve seen on a professional stage. I can only assume that the huge cardboard set, which enables the strange inclusion of the log scene is just to tick a box for fans because it does nothing to help drive the dreary story.

There are some good performances and both lead singers (who I can’t name check, because they aren’t credited properly in the programme) show some real flair, while Jonny and Baby, AKA Michael O’Reilly and Kira Malou, gallop through their numbers with verve, until eventually you get to the bit the audience has all been waiting for, the “(I’ve Had) The Time Of My Life” lifting part. It’s only then that the auditorium really comes alive having been in that unfortunate position for much the previous two hours of not knowing if they are meant to be laughing at or with the cast.

I guess this show is for fans of the film and those who are looking for their favourite bits recreated on stage will get them. But if you’re after high quality musical theatre, you need to look elsewhere.

Dirty Dancing is running at the New Wimbledon Theatre until Saturday 24 November.