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Suddenly Last Summer - Ensemble Theatre (NSW)

Written by Tennessee Williams. Directed by Shaun Rennie


Reviewed by Juliana Payne

Ensemble Theatre, Kirribilli


4 STARS


- Belinda Giblin gives another stellar performance in Tennessee Williams' still tragically relevant play -


The last time I saw Belinda Giblin she was buried to the neck in garbage at the Old Fitz Hotel, giving us an unforgettable version of Winnie in Happy Days. Last night at the Ensemble Theatre she was dressed in elegantly draped white silk with ropes of pearls that fell to her waist, delivering yet another titanic performance as the execrable Mrs Venable in Suddenly Last Summer. Is there anything Giblin can’t do?


The plot unfolds as wealthy widow Mrs. Venable reveals that she’s desperately trying to suppress the truth about her late son Sebastian’s mysterious death. When her niece Catherine appears – Andrea Demetriades – and starts to uncover the unsettling details of his death, the audience is transported into a web of deception and disturbing revelations. But who do we believe?


In his least realistic play, Tennessee Williams uses the two female leads to delve into the depths of human nature, secrets, and the power of manipulation. The play is structured like a binary star system; the two women are inextricably bound by their memory of the dead Sebastian, and the closer they get the more dangerous it is for everyone involved. As Demetriades and Giblin do all the heavy lifting in this play with about 99 per cent of the dialogue between them, it’s a marvellous blessing for the audience that they are both perfectly equipped to deliver their challenging, haunted characters.


Photos by Jaimi Joy


Giblin exudes a mix of arrogance and vulnerability to portray Violet's inner turmoil and obsession with maintaining the facade of her family's reputation. Demetriades is exceptional, capturing the young woman haunted by traumatic memories of Sebastian’s death. Not since Rebecca have we seen such an influence cast by a character who has died and isn’t even in the play.


Simone Romaniuk’s set and costume designs reflect the slightly unreal, off-kilter sensibility of the play – the floaty wispy backdrop, the stark white costuming of a bygone era with Catherine’s stunning red dress as a counterpoint. Kelly Ryall’s music and sound design is wonderfully integrated with this vision. His uncanny and unsettling soundscape keeps the audience alert and alarmed, and as the music builds it develops a hothouse effect, like we’re trapped in one of Sebastian’s Venus flytrap plants. Catharine’s struggle to be heard and believed plays out in the eerie ambience created by the evocative set and sound, and the tension is tangible as the drama builds to a shattering climax.


Trust the text – especially when you can see and hear it rendered by two leads of such quality

The play's themes of uncertain sexuality, mental illness, exploitation, and the repression of truth resonate just as much today as when the play was written in 1958. Through sharp and poetic dialogue, Williams exposes the contradictions and hypocrisy of the patriarchal society. The language is everything in this play, with long dramatic monologues that you need to pay attention to. That’s why it’s better to see this production than to watch the 1959 film. Being a film, they tried to depict realistic scenes whilst running the poetic dialogue concurrently, and it just looks clunky and heavy handed.


Trust the text – especially when you can see and hear it rendered by two leads of such quality as you can see at the Ensemble Theatre right now.

 

Playwright Tennessee Williams

Director Shaun Rennie

Assistant Director Emma Canalese

Cast

Valerie Bader Andrea Demetriades Belinda Giblin Remy Hii Socratis Otto Kate Skinner

Understudies

Jamie Oxenbould Grace Smibert

Set & Costume Designer Simone Romaniuk

Lighting Designer Morgan Moroney

Composer & Sound Designer Kelly Ryall

Dialect Coach Linda Nicholls-Gidley

Intimacy, Movement & Fight Director Nigel Poulton

Stage Manager Erin Shaw

Assistant Stage Manager Sophie Jones

Costume Supervisor Monica Smith

Costume Assistant Alexis Worthing


18 May 2023 - 10 Jun 2023

90 mins (no interval)

Recommended for ages 12+

Wheelchair Accessible

Hearing Loop

Audio Described (selected dates)

Adult themes, smoking (theatrical e-cigarette), references to mental illness, class and race.

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