Theatre Review: Summer And Smoke Is More Than Smoke And Mirrors
A hundred years ago the term 'hysterical woman' fell midway between dismissive stereotyping and medical diagnosis. So it's appropriate that this forms the basis of the teasing and tortured romance between nervy hypochondriacal minister's daughter Alma and bad-boy trainee doctor John.
Transferred from the Almeida, Summer and Smoke is often referred to as Tennessee Williams' 'neglected' play. There's usually a reason for plays to be neglected and in this case, not being A Streetcar Named Desire is reason enough, although the tension between the principal characters comes from the same territory as Stanley Kowalski and Blanche du Bois, written a year earlier.
The hemispherical setting with bare brick walls, top-down lighting and seven upright pianos is is more evocative of the Roundhouse in Chalk Farm than the filigree ironwork and antebellum mentions of the Old South. However, such is the strength of the acting, you really do visualise Matthew Needham as John and Patsy Ferran as Alma standing outside the old casino while she struggles with her conscience and ramrod morality about whether to go in with him, or have him take her home knowing that he'll just go alone later. That's a lovely piece of universality in a picture of what's otherwise a very sepia-tinted situation — and it's also what sets the production apart.
They call this 'director's theatre' and it clearly marks the transition of Rebecca Fracknall from jobbing director to auteur, there's such firm clear handwriting on the production. It should also guarantee Patsy Ferran a place on the leader board when awards season rolls around.
Summer and Smoke, Duke of York's Theatre, St Martin's Lane, WC2N 4BG, £10-£95. Until 19 January 2019
Last Updated 22 November 2018