Tennessee Williams' 'Summer And Smoke' at Duke Of York’s Theatre, London - Review

The gay playwright's oft-neglected 1948 play has had a West End transfer.


Words: Matthew Hyde  

This neglected Tennesse Williams play gets a West End transfer after a much lauded season at the Almeida Theatre in March. It’s a tricky evening of incredible performances along with sumptuous visuals, however a few indulgent moments make it fall slightly short of being truly captivating and engrossing.

Alma is a parson’s daughter and local singing teacher completely absorbed in her duties and responsibilities as a respected member of the community. Along comes local bad-boy and neighbouring Doctor John Buchanan awakening an all-consuming desire in Alma.

This awakening sends her on a descent into neurosis and perilously close to madness. It’s a tortured and painful journey that is fascinating to watch and largely responsible for this production’s success.

As Alma, Patsy Ferran is incredible. She totally inhabits this character from her head to her bare feet. She presents a stress, anxiety and sensitivity that is exhausting to witness. As delicate and brittle as a leaf she is a trembling mass of feelings and emotions while at times displaying an astonishing ferocity and power.

It is a truly detailed and engrossing performance. There is something happening to her every second which makes Ferran irresistible to watch.

As John Buchanan, Matthew Needham is all brooding intensity. He mercilessly toys with Alma as he enthrals, taunts, hurts and ultimately discards. The two actors together on stage resemble a dance – attractive, playful, dark and painful.

The production does suffer from moments of pretension and melodrama which feel alienating and ultimately frustrating. However, it is beautiful and dreamlike to watch in a stripped back production which puts the characters and relationships front and centre.

The rest of the cast offer strong support and often play multiple parts to good effect. The night however belongs to Ferran in a performance which will be talked about for a long time after and which has a profound effect on all lucky enough to witness it.

Rating: 4/5

'Summer and Smoke' plays at the Duke Of York’s Theatre until 19 January 2019. For the best deals on tickets and shows click here