Duke of York’s Theatre, London – until 19 January 2018
The Almeida’s Summer & Smoke was a huge hit in the spring so it was little surprise to hear a West End transfer was on the cards (especially compared to, say, The Twilight Zone…). And it has transplanted to the Duke of York’s in fine shape, Tom Scutt’s set losing none of its invitingly curved intimacy as it replicates the bare bricks of the N1 venue.
And Rebecca Frecknall’s production has lost none of its charge, mainly through retaining the electric chemistry between its leads – an exceptional Patsy Ferran as Alma and Matthew Needham as John. The complex emotional connection between their characters is the heart of the play and the stark simplicity of the staging reflects that from the outset.
From its arresting, breathless opening image, Summer & Smoke is all about the way love can just overwhelm, take over every waking moment even against common sense. And the balance shifts between lust and love, desire and duty, societal pressures and sexual awakening, you eventually remember this is a Tennessee Williams play and self-destruction is just around the corner.
There’s not a weak link here. Lee Curran’s lighting design is one for the ages as it summons Mississippi heat and intense emotional acuity. Anjana Vasan continues a brilliant year for her in fine voice, Forbes Masson is superb as a crucial pair of fathers, and the jangling sounds of Angus MacRae’s compositions on the pianos that surround the actors are a tremulous necessity in both setting the atmosphere of this adaptation and thoroughly unsettling it. Recommended.