Review: Suddenly Last Summer at Progress Theatre

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Taking on any of Tennessee Williams’ complex, tragic female characters is a tall order for an actress, but you never would have known it watching Progress Theatre newcomer Rebecca Douglas last night.

Stepping into the role of the fragile Catherine Holly, driven to the very edge of her sanity by the terrible things she has witnessed, Rebecca marked herself as one to watch. And not just in Reading, but far beyond too.

Speaking in a faultless South American accent she drifted on to the stage ethereally, trembling and visibly broken, despite her beautiful dress.

The scene had been set by Mrs Venable, played by Progress stalwart Liz Carroll, as she explained to the doctor (Dan Brown) that she was due to meet her niece, Catherine, who she held responsible for the death of her son Sebastian. Catherine had been in the care of an institution since Sebastian’s death with Mrs Venable desperate for her to stop telling the awful ‘untruths’ about how Sebastian died.

Dangling Sebastian’s death before the audience, Williams builds his story beautifully, and director Laura Barns set the perfect pace, gradually heightening both tension and curiosity before a terrific crescendo.

Liz Carroll was fantastic as Mrs Venable, her crisp and vengeful exterior hiding overwhelming denial, which made us both sympathise with and despise her in equal measure. The bystanders – Catherine’s mother (Alison Hill), her brother George (Alexander Hobbs), her nurse (Tara O’Connot) and Mrs Venables’ maid (Nanette Naude) – intensified the situation, their purpose as ‘carers’ seemingly foggy as they kept their own interests at hand. It was never clear quite whether they held Catherine’s best interests at heart and it drew us even further to this lonely, desperate woman, and the terrible things she has been privy to.

And as Catherine began to tell her story, that was where Rebecca really took flight, giving a gut-wrenching performance. It may only be her first step onto the Progress Theatre stage, but it will be exciting to see where this remarkable talent goes next.

Suddenly Last Summer is at Progress Theatre in The Mount, Reading, until Saturday 21 May. Tickets are £12, £10 concessions. To book visit www.progresstheatre.co.uk

I was invited to review Suddenly Last Summer so my tickets were complimentary but all views are my own.

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