Summer and Smoke review: A devastating tale of unfulfilled longing ★★★★★

Patsy Ferran gives an astounding performance as The Almeida’s production moves to the West End

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Summer and Smoke may be one of Tennessee Williams’ lesser performed, under-appreciated plays but Rebecca Frecknall’s heart-shattering production transforms it into one of his best.

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Patsy Ferran plays Alma, a minister’s daughter and singing teacher. Caring for her mother who has suffered a nervous breakdown, and stuck in a cycle of responsibility and routine, she is pious and panicky. Her undeclared love for her long-time neighbour, a young, hedonistic and angry doctor named John [Matthew Needham], is heightening her neuroses.

One searing summer they come close to romance, but it doesn’t quite happen. Ferran is agonisingly good as an awkward, almost puritan soul, unwilling to give in to lust but experiencing a passion that clearly terrifies her. She and John attract and repel each other over and over again.

Sometimes, the missed moments of love between them are almost unbearable to watch.

Tom Scutt’s set is stripped-back and atmospheric.  The cast plays chords on the horseshoe of pianos encasing the stage, adding to the sense of hazy, blistering, smoky heat in which Alma struggles to feed her hunger for love.

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A spine-tingling production which holds you in its grip, long after its over.

Summer and Smoke is at the Duke of York, London