SUMMER AND SMOKE
by Tennessee Williams.
Southwark Playhouse (The Vault) Southwark Playhouse Shipwright Yard corner of Tooley St and Bermondsey St SE1 2TF To 30 June 2012.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat 3pm.
Runs 2hr 40min One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7407 0234.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 16 June.
It’s the boy-and-girl next-door story transformed through sympathy and understanding.
Though the company reviving Tennessee Williams’ play at Southwark Playhouse is called Folie à Deux, don’t believe a word of it. This, as the cast-list indicates, is an ensemble success, and neither play nor production is in any sense a folly.
If casting the right people is 50% of a director’s skill, Rebecca Frecknall’s achieved it fully. And she’s close to a full-house on whatever the other half comprises. The play, written around the time of A Streetcar Named Desire, has in Alma Winemiller a variant on Streetcar’s Blanche. Fixed in early 20-th century small-town society, a minister’s daughter and singing-teacher, Alma denies her desire for neighbouring doctor’s son John Buchanan, with his drink, women and gambling, until he settles to a life without her, and, the ghost of Blanche looming, the virginal girl becomes a woman looking anywhere for happiness.
Lorna Killin’s design relieves the ensemble of elaborate scenic atmospherics with a minimal set, mainly of moveable door-frames (it’s a small town, proximity matters). Ensemble images show life being lived elsewhere, doors placed together can bring conflicts hurtling, or oppose the restrained anxiety of Kate Lamb’s Alma (meaning ‘soul’ she repeatedly tells people – and reminds herself) with the Hispanic freedom of Jenna Smith’s Rosa or the quiet happiness of her Nellie Ewell (played with contrasting earthy energy and ethereal innocence), rival attractions for reluctant young medic John Buchanan.
Curran McKay has the high-school hero looks and glibness that would attract Alma. Williams originally called the play Charts of Anatomy, and Buchanan has one on the wall; but the spiritual unsurprisingly won over the material in the author, and he went for Hart Crane (“By that time summer and smoke were past”).
While there’s surrounding quality – Jack Fishburn as gently authoritative father figures, Sarah-Jayne Butler as Alma’s mentally abstracted mother, William Donaldson as Rosa’s gun-toting father – it’s Kate Lamb’s Alma who’s the show’s soul and centre, the life destroyed by life. Lamb finds the shyness, timidity and near-hysterical floodings of words and trembling of features that embody Alma’s soul – a sensitive performance in a perceptive, theatrically vibrant, production.
Mrs Winemiller/Mrs Bassett/Ensemble: Sarah-Jayne Butler.
Roger Doremus/Papa Gonzalez/Dusty/Ensemble: William Donaldson.
Alma Winemiller: Kate Lamb.
Dr John Buchanan: Curran McKay.
Rev Winemiller/Dr Buchanan Snr/Vernon/Archie Kramer/Ensemble: Jack Fishburn.
Rosa Gonzalez/Nellie Ewell/Rosemary/Ensemble: Jenna Smith.
Director: Rebecca Frecknall.
Designer: Lorna Killin.
Lighting: Sophie McLelland.
Composer: Joanna Taylor.
Assistant director: Saskia Marland.