SUDS’ Heat Lightning: “A Resounding Success”
Heat Lightning burns with intensity and emotion, with a cast of universally strong performances full of humour and vivacity that elevate Cardis and Johns’ direction.
As the SUDS summer season comes close to its end, Heat Lightning — directed by Pearl Cardis and Emma Johns — goes off like a firecracker, eagerly welcoming a new year of theatre.
As people file into the Cellar on opening night, a familiar eager chatter persists as we all take in Eleanor Fair and Anna Chan’s set. A dusty gas station is swathed in shades of orange, filled with bright light and sharp shadows that suggest a sprawling landscape invisible to the eye.
Olga, played to butch perfection by Adele Beaumont, walks across the stage in Cuban-heeled boots — it’s as if she had grown up there. Olga’s staunch loyalty to her chosen home becomes the solid rock around which the drama revolves. She watches over her sister Myra (Elodie Jakes), whose young, naive fire clashes with Olga’s stoicism. The accents put on by all the cast are charming and consistent, with the transatlantic drawl recalling the romanticism of the 1934 film of the same name, from which the play takes inspiration.
As the play develops, a problem marches through the door. Olga’s manipulative ex-lover George (Jeremy Jenkins) — a relic from her mysterious, evidently criminal past — and his nervous friend Jeff (Eoin O’Sullivan). These two are on the run from the law, but their plan to flee over the Mexican border is halted when George and Olga meet.
In scene after scene, Beaumont and Jenkins revolve around each other, the romantic tension palpable. George stands in the background in several scenes, wrapped in a cloud of smoke, like a virus that has infected Olga’s ecosystem.
George’s stay is extended again, when he and his associate decide they want to rob two rich women stranded at the gas station, Tinkles (Estella Kennedy) and Feathers (Sian Anketell). These two women lounge about the stage, tormenting their chauffeur Frank (James Wily), as they yank him back and forth.. This trio form the comedic centre of the play, and their antics bring a pleasant light laughter to a dark point in the play..
When Margot Roberts and Ben Bauchet perform a refrain of ‘La Llorona’, the wire finally snaps. Olga and George kiss.
The climax of the play takes place in a quiet blue midnight light. Myra — who has been left to her own devices by her older sister — is disappointed by the lover she comes to meet. She confronts Olga, vulnerable in nothing but a silk nightdress, “Why didn’t you stop me?”
During the robbery, Olga discovers George, and with chilling speed shoots him in the stomach. Jeff is let free. The body is dragged away and the rich ones drive off in a stunning 1920s style car that has been wheeled on-and-off stage throughout the play. Olga stands supreme, if a little sad. To end, the sisters recreate the opening scene of the play. All has returned to routine.
Heat Lightning burns with intensity and emotion, with a cast of universally strong performances full of humour and vivacity that elevate Cardis and Johns’ direction. What is on the surface a gripping thriller, has a strong narrative of family and a ringing praise for the values of dignity and self-respect laying underneath. Heat Lightning is a resounding success.