Suddenly Last Summer, Ensemble Theatre | Review

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A dreamy, yet harrowing, family drama, Ensemble Theatre’s production of Suddenly Last Summer reminds us why the Tennessee Williams story became a canon classic.

After poet Sebastian Venable dies while overseas with his cousin Catherine in horrible circumstances and leaves her a fortune in his will, his mother will do anything to protect her memory of him – even if it means blackmailing a doctor into lobotomising her niece. But as severely traumatised Catherine insists on exposing Sebastian as the less-than-savoury creative he is, can Mrs Venable, aided by Catherine’s money-grabbing mother and brother, stop the truth from coming out?

Williams enjoyed exploring the darkest sides of human nature in his writing, which in Suddenly Last Summer largely comes from a character that never sets foot onstage – Sebastian Venable. A tortured artist to his mother, a voyeur to his cousin, Williams asks us to consider how far a creative can push the boundaries of human decency in the name of artistic pursuit, and how they should be remembered when they’re gone. His story, though set in the early 20th Century, resonates with present-day audiences – after all, there are plenty musicians and artists known or suspected to have behaved badly in their lives, yet their songs are still on the radio and their works still hanging in the gallery, or even honoured at the Met Gala.

A huge amount of imagery can be found in Williams’ dialogue which director Shaun Rennie incorporates in every aspect of the production, creating an atmosphere of unease which tells the audience that despite its seeming normalcy, something more sinister is lurking just out of sight.

It’s impressive to hold an audience’s attention for any period of time, and Belinda Giblin as Mrs Venable does exactly that for over 30 minutes in the opening scene of the show. Her insistences of her son’s purity as an artist, despite overwhelming evidence of his subversive tendencies draw us into the story; Giblin’s performance of the overly attached mother contains all of the snark and audacity needed to convince the audience of such wilful ignorance and tacit endorsement of her son’s true nature, hinted to include proclivities for paedophilia and voyeurism. Her ultimate unhinging when the truth is revealed suggests she knew the truth all along – but, just as Williams’ intended, we never get complete assurance as to what is true, and what is delusion.

The hauntingly beautiful stage with billowing translucent-white curtains and vibrant carnivorous plants contained inside glass boxes on a white floor feeds the atmosphere of unease through the story. It’s eerily unsettling, austere except for the plants, which Sebastian Venable fed specially imported mosquitos. The only character not in white is Catherine, marked as different, bold, dangerous in bright red.

As Giblin captures our attention from the beginning so too does our protagonist Catherine, played by Andrea Demetriades, keep us glued to our seats right to the bitter end. Demetriades is a true leading woman, the extended monologue that forms the bulk of her performance utterly captivating. Her Catherine is well formed and contains oceans of depth; she is traumatised but true to her memory of Sebastian’s character and the circumstances of his death; enraptured by the sensitive doctor (Remy Hii); and vulnerable, wary of the agendas of her relatives and fearful of being forced into a lobotomy. The sympathetic way in which Williams portrays Catherine, alone among her family in having no agenda but telling her truth shows his opinion of the procedure based on his own experience, his sister forced to undergo a lobotomy by their mother.

A fascinating story of truth, delusion, betrayal and death, Suddenly Last Summer intrigues and shocks. Purchase your ticket here.

Sangiovese | Wine Pairing

Sangiovese is a medium to full bodied varietal. Its name is drawn from ‘sanguis Jovis’ meaning the ‘blood of Jove’, which I think would appeal to Williams’ dramatic themes in Suddenly Last Summer. It’s also a temperamental varietal, which needs a little extra care to ensure the fermentation process results in wine rather than vinegar.

My Pick: Coriole Vineyard 2021 Sangiovese, McLaren Vale, SA

This drop is deep purple-red, nice texture from tannin and combining vibrant red cherry, raspberry and cranberry notes with the earthiness and dried herb notes that separate it from other reds. Complex and balanced in every sip

Pick up a bottle for $30 here.

Suddenly Last Summer, Ensemble Theatre | Tasting Notes

Aussie Season18 May to 10 June 2023, Ensemble Theatre Sydney
Ticket $$38-80
WriterTennessee Williams
DirectorShaun Rennie
Theatre Type & GenreDrama, Gothic
See it if you likemurder mysteries, gritty stories
Wine PairingSangiovese
Criteria for Wine Pairingmixture of red fruit and earthy notes, textural