16 March 2018

Summer and Smoke at Almeida Theatre was beautiful

I had one simple reason for wanting to see Summer and Smoke and that was Tennessee Williams wrote it. Almeida Theatre is awkwardly situated half way between Angel and Highbury Islington so it takes something a bit special to get me there.

The layout of the theatre had been slightly different every time that I had been there so I was not sure where to book my seat. I was a little late so some of the options were taken from me. In the end I chose Circle A29 for a humble £32. I had not been on that side of the theatre before and the seat proved to be reasonable and there were only a few moment when the action took place out of site below me.

I loved the stage from the moment I took my seat. The centre was bare, apart from a old style microphone in the centre, it was ringer with pianos and the brick wall at the back of the stage was harshly lit to show every facet of its uneven surface.

The simplicity was maintained throughout the play with the only props allowed to make an appearance being some chairs, a few white pills and a child's jigsaw puzzle. I like simplicity.

I like music and light when they help a performance too and they both did here. The pianos were put to effective use at select moments throughout the evening in both quiet and noisy moments and the lighting change subtly, almost imperceptibly, to encourage the mood.

The centre of the stage was dominated by Alma and John and their story. They were neighbours with little in common, she was a nervous preacher's daughter with no expectations and the was a brash doctor's son who was expected to become a doctor too. Disturbing their story were their families and a few friends.

I thought that it was a nice touch to have some of the cast play multiple similar roles without changing their costumers; one actor played their two fathers and another played three of John's girlfriends.

It was a coming of age story, of sorts, filled with the loves, lusts and mistakes that we all make at that age. There were some moments of humour, sadness and anger and even more of acute embarrassment.

The pacing was superb too and I particularly liked the long slow scenes where little, if anything was said.

All that was very good but was as nothing to the performance of Patsy Ferran as Alma. She dominated the stage for two and a half hours with her touching performance that was packed full of little gestures and expressions. She was stunning and an obvious star in the making.

Summer and Smoke brought all the elements of theatre-craft together and made something quite beautiful.

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