Suddenly Last Summer

By Gill Canning

Credit: Jaimi Joy
Credit: Jaimi Joy
It’s a summer everyone would rather forget, but can they keep the awful events a secret?

She’s played Alf Stewart’s wife Martha on Home and Away for four years, and older readers may recall her from The Box, The Sullivans and Sons and Daughters. Belinda Giblin has been a stalwart of Australian soapies for some 50-odd years and now we are getting to see her get her teeth into a role of real substance – that of Violet Venable in Suddenly Last Summer. And boy, does she shine.

An elderly, wealthy resident of New Orleans, Giblin’s Violet appears dressed in expensive shades of rich cream, pearls, bejewelled fingers and elegantly coiffed silver hair. Her son, Sebastian died in mysterious circumstances last summer and as she relates to Dr Cukrowicz, a psychiatrist whom she has called to the house, Sebastian was a very talented (but unrecognised and unpublished) poet. The only person to witness his death was his cousin Catharine who has been giving disturbing accounts of what exactly happened when Sebastian met his maker while the two were travelling in Spain.

Consequently, Catharine has been sequestered in a mental asylum, but Violet has now called in a brain surgeon in the hope of persuading him to lobotomise Catharine, whom she claims is demented.

Belinda Giblin. Credit: Jaimi Joy

Violet and Sebastian seemingly shared a relationship closer than that of the average mother and son, as they travelled together frequently until Violet’s ‘turn’ last summer, after which Catharine was persuaded to be her cousin’s travelling companion. Previous to that, Violet claims, she “was the only one who satisfied his demands of people”.

Written by US playwright Tennesse Williams more than 60 years ago, the play is no less impactful for its age, touching as it does on themes of incest, hidden homosexuality, mental illness and more. Although Sebastian never appears, the audience is able to ascertain exactly what kind of man he was from the contrasting accounts of both his mother and his cousin.

Giblin is riveting as Violet, all southern twang and assumed privilege. Balancing her beautifully is Andrea Demetriades (Crownies; Janet King) as Catharine in an outfit as shockingly scarlet as Violet’s is pale refinement. The two women are brilliant foils but credit must be given to Remy Hii (Crazy Rich Asians; Spider-Man: Far From Home) as the Doctor, who was given only four days’ rehearsal to step into the role.

Andrea Demetriades. Credit: Jaimi Joy

Fleshing out the cast are Catharine’s mother and brother (Valerie Bader and Socratis Otto), keen not to get their obscenely wealthy relative, Violet off-side in order to potentially benefit from Sebastian’s will.

Disturbing though it may be, Suddenly Last Summer makes a still-pertinent comment on the haves and have-nots of the world and how easily the former can exploit the latter, until perhaps…they don’t. Despite a simple set consisting largely of four terrariums and a leafy backdrop, the actors manage to convey their time and place and the horror within. 

Four curtain calls on Opening Night said it all.

Suddenly Last Summer

Ensemble Theatre

Until 10 June, 2023


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