FRINGE REVIEW – Suddenly Last Summer, Duddingston Kirk

*****

10-21 Aug (not 15, 16) 1600 (1720) @ Duddingston Kirk Manse Garden

By Danielle Farrow

Suddenly Last Summer is a play about seeking and journeys, and the journey to Duddingston Kirk, outwith the main Fringe area, is one well worth making for it. Tennessee Williams’ magnificent construction is a powerful yet delicate expedition of excavation, which builds via detailed characters, major and minor, to a climactic and extremely dramatic revelation on a burning, bleached-white hill. To sustain the steep climb and drive the audience along in these rather tricky travels, delicacy and power is required in the production as well – and this Theatre Alba delivers.
 
In wonderful apposition, a gentle walk in the gardens is accompanied by the subject of carnivorous plants, and the ensuing elegant hospitality in a marquee is ‘graced’ by discussion of lobotomies. Only when truth is fully revealed do the manner of delivery and the content under focus match each other, and this within a riveting performance from Anna Guthrie as the one under consideration for such radical, and probably horribly damaging, brain surgery, due to the tales she tells about desire and death.
 
A few quibbles about the production rest on details, including props that are not as described by the characters themselves, and there is one accessory that would never be matched with a particular character’s meticulously elegant outfit. Also, sound effects and music, while usually setting atmosphere well, sometimes distract and seem not as appropriate as planned, particularly near the end. On occasion, a couple of actors perform vocally but are not fully in their bodies, so that some emotional explosions come from nowhere and damage believability, and some exits and entrances appear unmotivated.
 
Over all, though, the cast is strong: Helen McColl, in a supporting role, performs naturally and truthfully; Philip Kingscott as self-centred brother George is as irritating as he should be; Mother – Lorraine McCann – brings a little light relief, yet in such a manner that one actually feels for her difficulties; Nick Cheales’ doctor controls and supports ably, without unnecessary fuss or distraction; Kirsten Maguire as Mrs Venable could benefit from more charm and subtlety, but she holds the focus commandingly and confidently sets everyone on their way. Yet properly reaching the peak of this journey very much depends on a tour-de-force performance – and in Anna Guthrie’s Cathy we get exactly that as her thoughts, feelings, motivation and desperation become more and more clear, deeply rooted and powerfully delivered.
 
Suddenly Last Summer is a classic piece, worthy of its sterling reputation and living up to it well in this classically presented production.

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