Loved the play, hated the concept.
It is assumed that director Kip Williams has been to a National Theatre Live cinema screening recently, at which he decided to subject us all to the same experience, whether we welcomed it or not. NT Live cinema tickets cost $28; tonight I paid $99 ($107.50 with booking fee) for the same effect.
After the briefest stage crossing, Robyn Nevin (Mrs Venable) and Mark Leonard Winter (Doctor) exit through a door in a massive white screen. From here, the play proceeds (presumably) behind the screen while the action is projected onto the screen. I say “presumably” because the effect is so cinematic that it could be that we are watching a pre-recorded screening while the actors drink water and check their Facebook.
There are minor points of interest: the camera work gives the impression that we are eavesdropping on a conversation from behind the leafy greens of the late Sebastian’s garden; use of the door and window tie in nicely; and, later, triptych effects give multiple viewpoints at once.
Finally, after some 30 minutes, the stage revolves to reveal the real setting, which is an impressive expanse of potted greenery. Still, the camerawork continues, so that for the sake a couple of moments of clever angles, we are removed from the time and setting so carefully constructed by the actors’ speech patterns and the costume designer’s flair by the sight of three camera operators in black snaking around the stage and occasionally even blocking the actual view.
Only 40 minutes, out of a total 90, is allotted to “normal” stage viewing before the screen revolves again. The climactic sequence of Catharine’s recounting of Sebastian’s death last summer reaches quite a frenzy, but it all comes at a cost of the fundamental difference between live theatre and film: in a play, you should be able to choose where you look, whereas in film that choice is made for you. The decision about whose reaction one wishes to observe as Catharine’s sinister narrative unfolds should rest with the audience.
Fortunately, Tennessee Williams’ brisk play contains plenty of dramatic detail to retain interest and focus despite the distraction of close ups that reveal wig lines and eyelash glue. Tension is aided by excellent background music by Stefan Gregory.
Nevin gives an unfussy star turn, every bit the ensemble player despite being the most experienced actor on the stage. Her delivery of Mrs Venable’s most ruthless line brings audible chills from the audience. Winter captures the mannered intensity of Doctor, and is every bit as handsome as the type of men Sebastian used to enjoy as an entourage.
As the disturbed young Catharine, Eryn Jean Norvill has an attractive period look and a lovely open face. Norvill’s focus is a great aid to the audience following the story when the camera work becomes dizzying.
Paula Arundell (Sister Felicity), Melita Jurisic (Miss Foxhill) and Brandon McClelland (George) give solid support. Susan Prior is too young to be Mrs Prior, mother to Catharine and George, and her acting reaches histrionic soap opera levels at a stretch.
Let us hope that that this was a gimmick to try once then leave alone.
Suddenly Last Summer was reviewed at Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House at 8pm Saturday 28 February 2015. It plays until 21 March 2015.
Photos: James Green