Summer and Smoke is utterly spellbinding – review

Marc Brenner

Rebecca Frecknall directs the West End transfer of Tennessee Williams’ play following a successful run at Islington’s Almeida Theatre earlier this year.

First staged in 1948 hot on the heels of Tennessee Williams’ hit plays A Streetcar Named Desire and The Glass Menagerie, Summer and Smoke may be less well known and rarely performed but still proves to be a mighty fine play. Set in Mississippi during a hot summer, it tells the story of preacher’s daughter Alma and doctor’s son John. She is trapped by a sense of duty and the religion she’s inherited; he rebels against the life set out before him with a cocktail of alcohol, gambling and regular liaisons with women.

There’s a constant push-pull, will-they-won’t-they narrative to their romance which makes watching their story so intense. Every second is captivating – there isn’t a detail that’s been overlooked, no gesture or movement that feels superfluous. The slightest change of facial expression or posture is frequently dripping with subtext. The quality of the script is a major factor here, too – some of the lines are pure poetry, others are devastating where they need to be.

Related: Hadestown is slick, engrossing and a whole lot of fun – review

The acting is absolutely top notch throughout. We completely bought into Patsy Ferran as Alma – this is a revelatory performance from the talented young actor. Her accent is spot on – including the initially confusing elongated As which set her apart from her townsfolk – and she adds a great deal of physical theatre to the role with her nervous laughter, gulping of air and constant fidgeting and ticks. Matthew Needham impresses as John, too; his character is commendably unpleasant, yet there remains a genuine, palpable, exciting chemistry between the two.

We were really impressed by the staging of this production, too. The set is simple – seven upright pianos with their front panels removed create the space, the different scenes denoted by the moving of chairs around the stage – but it’s wonderfully effective. The intelligent use of lighting and smoke throughout create an ethereal, almost dream-like quality to proceedings. We particularly enjoyed the silhouetted singing moment, while the recreation of a firework display simply by reflecting the lights in the pianos was a joy to behold.

It’s really rather difficult to find fault with this production of Summer and Smoke. It’s a beautiful looking and sounding production of a superb play, with first-rate acting throughout. Utterly spellbinding.

Gay Times gives Summer and Smoke – 

More information can be found here.

Buy the latest issue of Gay Times



myGWork launches WorkPride, a virtual conference to strengthen LGBTQ+ workplace inclusion

This new podcast series will celebrate diverse voices in our community during Pride Month

Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande are Chromatica weather girls in hilarious new video

Bi Pride UK will return this year for a virtual extravaganza

FX orders American Horror Story spin-off and confirms season 10 status

The first trailer for Love, Simon spin-off Love, Victor is FINALLY here

Gay couple protesting Poland’s “LGBT-free zones” with rainbow face masks

Justin Tranter: How a queer glam rock star ended up writing the biggest pop hits in the world

Press enter to search