SUMMER AND SMOKE
by Tennessee Williams.
Duke of York’s Theatre, St Martin’s Lane, London WC2 to 19 January 2019.
Mon – Sat 7.30pm Mat Wed & Sat 2.30pm.
Runs 2hr 40 mins One interval.
TICKETS: 0844 871 7623.
Review: William Russell 22 November.
Fantastic, fabulous & fearless Ferran
Garlanded with four and five star reviews this Almeida theatre production directed to the hilt by Rebecca Frecknall deserves its West End transfer if only because it allows a longer life for the absolutely stunning performance by Patsy Ferran as Alma, the piano teacher daughter of a minister somewhere in Tennessee Williams land a century ago. Alma , a typical repressed Williams spinster locked in a dreadful family life – father is a prude, mother has dementia – has fallen for John the boy next door, a young doctor with a taste for the wild life. Her passion is not reciprocated.
They change roles as the play proceeds, he realising love is not just sex, as he falls for another woman, she discovering that romantic love also has a physical side.
Ferran is astonishing. I really do not think the four and five stars the production acquired at the Almeida are deserved, and neither does the play which is very minor Williams ploughing through familiar material. But in a beautifully observed, heart breaking performance as someone who ends up seeking comfort with strangers in quite the wrong places Fearon ensures they are fully deserved.
She gets good support from a first cast with Nancy Crane delivering a splendid double act as Alma’s in her second childhood mother and as Mrs Bassett, the local busybody always ready with a vicious put down. Matthew Needham as the selfish John grows in strength as the character develops from hunk next door on the prowl into a man with feelings.
But it has all been titivated to the limit, the action taking place in a semi circular arena surrounded by upright pianos on which the cast thump out what pass for tunes – or noises off. There is a bare brick back wall at the back replicating the Almeida stage, a few chairs which keep being tossed hither and thither, and that is it. Pretentious is the word for it, but maybe it helps some of the scenes work more or less, which, if set in a room, would ring very hollow indeed. We also know it is art because everyone is bare footed, always a bad sign.
However, Ferran is magnificent and alone is worth both the transfer and the revival.
Archie Kramer: Seb Carrington.
Mrs Winemiller/Mrs Bassett: Nancy Crane.
Alma Winemiller: Patsy Ferran.
Papa Gonzales/Vernon: Eric Maclennan.
Rev Winemiller/Dr Buchannan: Forbes Masson.
John Buchanan: Matthew Needham.
Roger Doremus/Dusty: Tok Stephen.
Director: Rebecca Frecknall.
Design: Tom Scut.
Lighting: Lee Curran.
Sound: Carolyn Downing.
Composer & Musical Director: Angus Macrae.
Fight Director: Jonathan Holby.
Voice Coach: Michaela Kennen.
Photography: Mark Brenner.