Tennessee William’s Suddenly Last Summer is one of his most rarely performed works but, as usual, the Experimental Theatre Club refuse to shy away from any production which might prove demanding. It is undeniable that Suddenly Last Summer is a difficult play to perform, but in the dress rehearsal at the Oxford Playhouse, the Experimental Theatre Club delivered a stunning performance through an extraordinary innovation, which has impressively become very much the norm for this group.
At first, I had doubts about this production. The Oxford Playhouse stage seemed too immense for a student production to fill, and actors’ attempts at an authentic American accent at times seemed to slip. Suddenly Last Summer is not only difficult to perform, but often difficult to watch: it is a slow-burning and intense piece. However, as the play warmed up, it soon eradicated any fears an audience member could possibly possess about the success of this performance. Mary Higgins as Catharine made the stage seem almost too small to hold her; she exuded the vitality of a character enraged by a truth which she tells but is not believed. Further excellence from the cast was evident in Derek Mitchell’s performance as Violent Venable. Mitchell – donning the fantastic costume created by Hannah Chilver-Vaughan – becomes, incredibly, an entirely believable domineering and manipulative old woman. The characters within this play are often at stark opposition to one another, but the performance is one which is brilliantly cohesive.
The Experimental Theatre Club’s production of Suddenly Last Summer is set to be a production which ends with an explosion of emotion.
However, this praise cannot rest solely on the actors’ shoulders. The creation of a performance so creepily eerie and absorbingly atmospheric is established by its imaginative staging. Suddenly Last Summer is transformed from an infamously one Act play to one divided by choreographed dance routines performed to emotionally hard-hitting live music. The stage itself is transformed into a space with many dimensions, as characters and musicians linger behind a semi-transparent screen acting as the window of the house. This adds the disturbing voyeurism of a play in which characters seem to dictate the truth as madness.
The Experimental Theatre Club’s production of Suddenly Last Summer is set to be a production which ends with an explosion of emotion. Its disorientating surrealism gives the ending a sucker-punch impact. But, I won’t spoil it – you must go and see this for yourself.
Suddenly Last Summer is in the Oxford Playhouse until the 11th of February.