Just what the doctor ordered
PUBLISHED: 16:12 18 March 2009 | UPDATED: 17:26 16 August 2010
TENNESSEE Williams 1948 play Summer and Smoke was revived recently in a stalwart production by Crayford s Geoffrey Whitworth Theatre, writes Mark Campbell.
TENNESSEE Williams' 1948 play Summer and Smoke was revived recently in a stalwart production by Crayford's Geoffrey Whitworth Theatre, writes Mark Campbell.
The central character of Alma Winemiller (Susie Hall) is a starchy minister's daughter whose secret passion for the womanising town doctor John Buchanan (Ben Gaston) threatens to dominate her life.
Alma is a complex creation whose repressed libido seems to drive her every action.
Like Blanche DuBois in Williams' earlier A Streetcar Named Desire, you get more than a glimpse of mental instability beneath the apparently genteel surface.
It's a very difficult to role to pull off, and Susie Hall pretty much achieved it. She had certainly mastered the mixture of coyness, naïveté and barely concealed sexuality so important to the character. The accent faltered at times, but then a convincing Mississippi drawl is extremely hard to do (unless you're from Mississippi), and the fact that she had to affect an Anglicised version of it made the task even harder.
I have nothing but praise for her dedication.
Ben Gaston had the similarly hard task of portraying an upright pillar of the community who was also a philanderer and alcoholic on the side.
I never quite believed in him, but this is no fault of the actor - I don't think Tennessee Williams did either. Director John Turnbull's decision to add a prologue with the main characters as children made the long first act even longer, but things improved with the leaner and more dramatically satisfying second act, in which tensions are partially resolved and characters undergo major transformations.
Scott Shearer, Catherine Addy, Aysev Ismail, Ellie Martin and Michael Martin were the best of a uniformly good supporting cast.
Liz Naisbitt's glamorous costumes looked just right for the period, while Paul Allen's lighting design confidently suggested things that we never actually saw.