Walking into the Cellar Theatre last Thursday night was like walking into a nightmare. Having prepared myself for a quiet, civil night of theatre, I was faced instead with a house party complete with red plastic cups and a groovy playlist. We were handed a sheet of paper explaining that we would be approached by cast members as though we were at a house party with them, and that we should treat them as strangers.
SUDS’ production of Tennessee Williams’ Summer and Smoke, directed by Adam Waldman and produced by April Saleeba, has been reimagined to take place in urban Sydney, circa 2016. This re-appropriation did not work well. The only similarities between the 2016 setting and the original 20th century setting appeared to be excessive mansplaining and even more excessive making out.
While the Cellar Theatre had been made to look just like every lame student house party you’ve ever been to – the set design is possibly just left over from last year’s SUDS production, House Party , the space was too small for the audience to be immersed in the experience. I heard one ‘partygoer’ give the same anti-religion rant to three different groups. The layout of the theatre also made the audience feel very exposed. It was good for performative purposes, but bad for sneaking snacks.
The modern day interpretation was more distracting than anything else. Throughout the establishing scene, I was too busy listening to the sweet sounds of Kendrick Lamar to even pick up on the names of the main characters. The original early 1900s language was unchanged, which made the occasional reference to clubbing in The Cross seem forced and out of place.
The actors undeniably made the most of their material. Tess Green was exceptional in the role of Alma, delivering her lines naturally and with impressive accent and diction – making the highly-strung minister’s daughter much more likeable than she might otherwise be.
The rest of the cast also gave solid performances. Max Baume was convincing as Dr John Buchanan, and was a captivating performer to watch, with an obvious natural charisma. However, the romance between the two main characters felt flat and unconvincing – it was never clear why these characters like each other or what they have in common.
The supporting actors rounded out a cast that was obviously talented. They were, however, let down by the unnecessary modern appropriation, and a play that would have been far more enjoyable had it been left in its original setting.