Chemistry, Fluidity And Minimalism: Summer and Smoke At Almeida Theatre

Summer and Smoke, Almeida Theatre ★★★★☆

Neil Dowden
By Neil Dowden Last edited 6 months ago

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Chemistry, Fluidity And Minimalism: Summer and Smoke At Almeida Theatre Summer and Smoke, Almeida Theatre 4
Photo: Marc Brenner

Tennessee Williams’s rarely performed 1948 play Summer and Smoke portrays the will-they-won’t-they relationship between a highly strung minister’s daughter and an unruly trainee doctor in small-town Mississippi in the early 20th century. Alma finally comes to accept her innate sexuality in spite of her repressive religious upbringing, but John is moving in the opposite direction from sensual gratification to spiritual longing after a tragic event.

This is Williams at his most poetic with overt symbolism and an experimental structure in a characteristic story of loneliness, desire, self-destruction and redemption. With its body/soul dichotomy, there are tangible shades of the much more successful A Streetcar Named Desire.

Photo: Marc Brenner

Patsy Ferran gives a superbly physical, poignant performance as hyperventilating, desperate Alma, with real chemistry between her and Matthew Needham’s virile, taciturn John who overindulges himself at the local casino.

Rebecca Frecknall’s fluid production is daringly non-naturalistic, though there is little social context. Tom Scutt’s minimalist design has just a few wooden chairs in a pit of dirt-covered floorboards, with nine pianos arranged in a semi-circle against the back wall, on which the ensemble occasionally play high-pitched notes to create a taut, nervy atmosphere.

Summer and Smoke, Almeida Theatre, Almeida Street, N1 1TA. Until 7 April 2018. Tickets £10-£39.50.

Last Updated 12 March 2018