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.
Photo by Marc Brenner