Review: David Munro
SUDDENLY Last Summer is a play of revenge; that of Mrs
Venables (Diana Rigg) on her niece, Catherine (Victoria Hamilton),
for the death of her son, Sebastian, with whom Catherine had been
travelling when he died.
Catherine has returned alone and tells her aunt that Sebastian
has been raped, murdered and eaten by boys on the beach, whom
he was trying to pick up.
Mrs Venables, determined to protect her son's reputation, and
furious with her niece for stealing, as she believes, her son's
love from her, has her incarcerated in an asylum.
Not content with that, she now wants her lobotomised, so that
the memory of Sebastian's death is, quite literally, cut out of
For this, she enlists the help of Dr Cukrowicz, bribing him with
promises to fund his asylum.
While all this is going on Catherine's mother, (Abigail McKern)
and brother, (Patrick Kennedy), arrive intent on getting Mrs Venable
to release money left to them in Sebastian's will.
The moral, if there is one, to this grisly parable is that under
the veneer of civilisation, every one is an animal and survives
by the law of the jungle - eat or get eaten, actually or metaphorically.
The action of the play takes place in Mrs Venables' garden, in
New Orleans. The set, by Christopher Oram, is a brooding garden,
framed by large red, fleshy flowers, and gives the impression
of a vast carnivorous plant, which seeks to ingest the characters
In the centre, like a large spider, Diana Rigg's Mrs Venables
dominates it and the action.
Her Mrs Venables is a desiccated Grande Dame, venomous, but still
sufficiently in control of herself, so as never to lose the veneer
of manners and graciousness which makes her all the more repulsive.
Her scenes with the doctor indicate that there remains still
some sexual life in the old bitch yet, that gives an incestuous
twist to her obsessive love for her dead son. It is a performance
really beyond praise and one which justifies the revival of this
perverse and nasty little fable.
As the fly caught in Mrs Venables' web, Victoria Hamilton's Catherine,
gives as good as she gets in her performance of someone trapped
in a situation beyond her control, and from which she is unable
Even though her scenes with Dame Diana are dominated by the Dame,
and her overwhelming malevolence, she still manages to convey
the impression that she must have been a character in her own
right, and one which it is conceivable that Sebastian could have
As the venal Doctor, Mark Bazely is convincingly unctuous and,
in his scenes with Dame Diana, he maintains his cool poise, even
though she makes it apparent that she expects more than a lobotomy
for her money.
He is a sinister presence in the gallery of unpleasant characters
conjured up by Tennessee Williams to assuage his guilt for his
own sister's lobotomy.
The rest of the cast are understandably overshadowed by the major
roles; nevertheless, Patrick Kennedy and Abigail McKern make their
presence felt ,as Catherine's nasty family, as does Virginia Denham,
as the somewhat over the top Nun/nurse, in charge of Catherine.
While looked at dispassionately, all the characters are unbelievable
as real persons, nonetheless, the director, Michael Grandage's
skill, and the performances make this a staggering night of theatre.
Tennessee Williams' creed that God shows a savage face may not
strike a chord in everyone's heart, but in this play, he succeeds
in showing that it might just be credible.
Suddenly Last Summer, by Tennessee Williams.
Director, Michael Grandage; Designer, Christopher Oram.
WITH: Diana Rigg; Victoria Hamilton; Mark Bazely; Patrick Kennedy;
Abigail McKern; Virginia Denham.
Producer, Sheffield Theatres.
Richmond Theatre, The Little Green, Richmond, Surrey.
Mon, April 19 - Sat, 24, 2004. Mon - Sat eves - 7.45pm, Mat: Wed
& Sat 2.30pm.
Box Office: 020 8940 0088.