It was a sad day for many York theatregoers upon finding out about the closure of The Fleeting Arms, a former drag-bar-turned-pub. It became a pop up performance space that was a hub for new companies looking to share their work. But fear not! I’ve found a cool new space that’s pretty much The Fleeting Arms reincarnated. It comes in the form of Orillo Productions, just off Heslington Road on Apollo Street. Second year York University student, Belle Kenyon, who studies Writing, Directing and Performance, has made full use of this new space, mounting an independent production of Tennessee Williams’ Suddenly, Last Summer.
Suddenly, Last Summer is set in New Orleans and focuses on Violet Veneble (played by Kenyon this evening after the original actress was taken ill), an old woman haunted by the death of her son Sebastian. Catharine (Sophie Paterson), her mentally unstable niece, was with Sebastian the day he died, and under the effects of a truth serum administered by Doctor ‘Sugar’ (James Osman) she reveals the gruesome truth behind Sebastian’s death.
There’s some great stuff here. Simple, unobtrusive sound effects and plain lighting help the audience to focus on Williams’ rich characters, and the staging is intimate and inviting. Since Williams’ plays often don’t have a prominent plot, and instead examine relationships and human interaction, it is crucial for characterisation to be sharp and on point. Unfortunately, this is what I find a tad lacking in this production. While Estela Williams and Paterson are excellent as relations of the cold-hearted Veneble, displaying careful consideration of their characters’ physicalities, some other members of the cast haven’t executed such careful consideration, with final performances coming across as somewhat under rehearsed. This includes undeveloped, slipping accents and a lack of character-specific physicality, which I feel definitely could have been explored a bit more. Having said that, Kenyon should be commended for stepping up into the role at the last minute and carrying a fair representation of a haunted and bitter old woman.
Projection also seemed to be an issue. Despite the intimate performance space, where it’s much easier to hear performers and therefore become more engrossed in the piece, some of the performances seemed a bit too internalised – most notably from Osman as the Doctor. If everything had been opened out a bit more, I think the space would have been filled by another crucial ingredient to great theatre: atmosphere.
Kenyon’s set design, however, is very similar to the sound and lighting: simple and unobtrusive. It makes full use of the Orillo space and makes the audience feel as though they’re actually in a restrictive and somewhat unforgiving household. In turn this reflects the desolate world in which the characters live as they revolve around Sebastian’s death, and the inquisition into relationships and tensions that follow.
On the whole, this is a great little production of another of Williams’ character studies. It’s clear that Kenyon has considered plenty of production aspects, and I feel that with a little more time, this could have been even better. But for a piece of quick theatre in a rough-and-ready space like Orillo, it’s fantastic, and indicative of the various different things you can do when you work independently.
Suddenly, Last Summer played at Orillo Productions. For more information, visit www.orilloproductions.com/productions