Suddenly Last Summer at Red Stitch Theatre

Tennessee Williams' 'Suddenly Last Summer' is on its way to Melbourne and will mark Red Stitch Actor's Theatre's first foray into the wild world of Williams. Carly spoke with director, Stephen Nicolazzo about the upcoming production and how he has gone about bringing this work to life and why it is perhaps even more relevant in 2018. Have a read below:

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Firstly I’d love to know a bit about how this production came to be - after your last great success at this theatre, it’s no doubt exciting for Melbourne audiences to see you back at Red Stitch with another powerhouse play. How did you come to work on Suddenly Last Summer? Is this one something that’s been on your director’s bucket list for some time or was it an exciting new find?

I have directed the play before- when I was first starting out as a director- and, like Oscar Wilde’s Salome, this play became an obsession- one that I could not get out of my mind. Working on it once was not enough- as the sensuous poetry and flamboyant; heart breaking and camp nature of its plot- are such an inspiration to me- the play has followed me into almost every show I have worked on since Psycho Beach Party and I believe its queer resonance is unmatched when you think about classic narrative dramas of the period. The film is a favourite of mine too- with its lavish and demented depiction of asylums and cannibals.  I wanted to tackle it again, dig even deeper into the mad world of Sebastian’s garden and explore it through my current aesthetic lens. I thought it would also be perfect in an intimate space like Red Stitch- creating such a complex and extravagant Southern Gothic psychological thriller within the confines of a big little theatre. The play’s lyricism and lush scope is rarely seen in small-scale spaces, and I think the intimacy of this venue will give the work all the more power and impact for a contemporary audience too. It is so very rare to have such detail in character in a text, one that allows for both grotesque and humane interpretation. I cannot resist its allure and its ability to arouse and provoke audiences to reconsider their attitudes towards mental illness, sexuality, and powerful women. 

Set the world of the Garden District for us...who are these people and what makes them such intriguing characters?

The characters are intriguing because they all worship a false God and that God was Sebastian Venable.  They are all complex, detestable, empathetic, and beautiful- they are poets and doctors, grifters and nuns. This is a world populated by untrustworthy people whose ability to tell stories can manipulate, inspire or destroy.

As with many great classics, Tennessee Williams’ plays are often quite complex to get around - how have you found that challenge and what’s been your process in guiding your cast through this work to get the most out of their characters?

It is incredibly complex, but also, weirdly, very direct and distilled. I like to work from a physical standpoint, developing character with the body, sculpting and finding the voice of the character and the play it self through specific actions and movements that are stylised and heightened. That can be a challenge for performers, particularly with such a poetic text- but I often find it strengthens and clarifies the way actors approach character. Words can help to a point, but it is what the audience sees, how the physical proxemics of a scene function that really give you additional insight into what makes a character tick.  When Williams’ lyricism and a physically bold and assured performer are combined, an incredibly rich and satisfying character is born.

I was excited to see that this is the first time Red Stitch is taking on one of Williams’ plays. Any fears in tackling Tennessee?

Not at all. If I was scared of him I wouldn’t be able to tackle him. I love him and therefore only want to do the best I can possibly do when presenting his work on stage. No fear, only love, admiration, inspiration and respect. Making a show is scary, any show really, there is fear when tackling anything- especially when the resources are low, but when the writing is this beautiful and inspiring, you feel like there is someone there guiding you to the stage.

The play is described as being an examination of legacy, sexuality and sanity. What about Suddenly Last Summer makes it a must see for 2018 audiences? Why is it so relevant now? 

As a queer theatre-maker and lover of Tennessee Williams, Suddenly Last Summer still manages to touch my heart and break my soul, as it speaks with great sincerity and violence about the experience of those who live on the margins of society. My pre-occupation as a theatre director has always been to tell stories that are radically theatrical, heightened and uncanny, and Suddenly Last Summer encapsulates this on all accounts.

It is austere, lush, imaginative, horrific and vivid. The play’s violent heart is incredibly personal and political, which makes it so ripe for contemporary investigation and presentation. It is a story that Melbourne audiences will not have seen (as it is rarely performed!) and focused on subject matter that is as provocative and haunted as it was when it originally premiered.  I mean, who writes plays about repressed homosexuality, cannibalism, and silencing female voices set in an erratic byzantine inspired jungle in 2018? No one.

It still speaks volumes about the implications of repressed sexuality, truth and identity, I believe it strikes a chord for those who have experienced persecution and been “othered” by controlling societies. It is a must see because it is Tennessee Williams at his most beautiful and brutal. This is a virtuosic work written for two incredibly strong female voices and it is one of the most musical of his writings. The balletic, visual form that Williams wrote of in his opening stage directions: a theatrical world that is both hyper-real in its emotional intensity, but also the stuff of dreams, is in simpatico with my approach to theatre-making. I want to bring his beautiful and tormented story to life for this reason.

Suddenly Last Summer digs deep under the skin. It makes you laugh, gasp in horror, and empathise in equal measure, which in my view makes it ripe for contemporary revival. It is about the silencing of the other, which is incredibly pertinent in a context where our identities are constantly being monitored, edited, and judged by our governments, class systems and culture. As someone who has always felt like they were relegated to the fringes of society, I feel its message is still urgent and uncompromising. Truth of self, of sex, and experience cannot be silenced, no matter who attempts to quash it.

RAPID FIRE QUESTIONS

Favourite production you have ever seen?

 THE STORY OF O by THE RABBLE

You’re getting on a plane tomorrow and you can go anywhere in the world, where do you go?

NAPLES

Dream show to direct?  

THE CHILDREN’S HOUR BY LILLIAN HELLMANN

Plays or musicals?

PLAYS

A hobby you have beyond the theatre?

COLLECTING RECORDS

What’s next for you after this show?  

A HIATUS

The show opens on October 5th and tickets are currently on sale here - make sure to book ahead for great seats to this one!

Stephen Nicolazzo - Director

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