Image – Work Art Life Studios and Black Photography
Artists have always drawn directly from the lives they were living. The blatant and beautifully written homoerotism of Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Gray, the tawdry undertones captured by Terrence Rattigan and of course, the gasping repression of Tennessee Williams' characters tortured by shame, sexuality and circumstance.
Suddenly Last Summer is a study of the extraordinary lengths some will go to in order to shut down truth and is layered with graphic brutal allegory. Savage in its recounting and shocking in what it uncovers, the play could easily be a parable highlighting recent examinations of religious, corporate and political abuse propped up by the limitless acts of revulsion of those involved. Set in 1936 and first produced on Broadway in 1958, the content was exceedingly controversial for its time and so much so, the subsequent 1959 film starring Katherine Hepburn and Elizabeth Taylor vastly diminished the overt homosexual referencing in the narrative.
Known for its dedication to the production of contemporary playwrighting from around the world and fostering new Australian works, Red Stitch Actors’ Theatre presenting a play by Tennessee Williams was acknowledged in company promotion as a deviation from conventional programming. There are, I’m sure, many factors a company considers in selecting works for its season and I imagine relevance is equally weighted alongside a desire to keep wonderful works alive – however, when you stray from your usual path, in the absence of an explanation, ‘why’ does become pertinent.
The tensions and unspoken longings of Williams characters, male and female, have always defined and charged his work and those attributes will remain relevant irrelevant of where we may currently sit on the moral spectrum. The language and craft of Williams, thankfully, remains bullet proof to even the most basic of production values.
Director Stephen Nicolazzo from Little Ones Theatre is heralded for innovative theatre-making that offers interpretations of classics that are distinctly gay in flavour. As Williams' most rapaciously homosexual work, despite not really needing it, Suddenly Last Summer was understandably on Nicolazzo’s most wanted list to examine “through a Queer Lens.”
Placing any classic into a different time or context, I guess, is one a way to ensure that works continue to live and continue to be affecting and current and while Nicolazzo suggests that he didn’t “feel the urge to ‘reimagine’ it or bring out some contemporary side to it (because) I think it’s already there,” the confusing look and feel of this production (particularly in terms of costume) says something quite other.
Red Stitch is an innovative powerhouse of a company fuelling its productions with exceedingly strong performance, excellent casting and, given the limitations of its space, opportunity for clever and creative design. In this the “company’s first foray into the iconic and beloved playwright” I’m afraid only some of those elements I’ve come to regard as hallmarks of this company are present.
It is widely noted in analysis of Hithcock that we are more afraid of what we don't see than what we do – Hitchcock seemed to understand that our own imagination was indeed, the greatest of special effects. Sometimes it’s all just there in the subtext and amplification is simply uncalled for. Anything written, staged, filmed or spoken affords us all fair opportunity to read between the lines – a theatrical review is no exception.
Red Stitch Theatre presents
Suddenly Last Summer
by Tennessee Williams
Director Stephen Nicolazzo
Venue: Red Stitch Actors Theatre, Rear 2 Chapel St, St Kilda VIC
Dates: 5 October – 4 November 2018