Suddenly Last Summer

Play by Tennessee Williams. Sebastian died suddenly last summer. His mother, Mrs Venable, feels ousted from prime place in her son's life by his new companion, Catherine. Now, after his death she is determined to wreak a violent revenge, but gradually it unfolds how little she knew or understood her son. In the oppressive heat of a New Orleans summer the horrifying truth about his savage death is revealed... A chilling study of motherly love and jealousy provoked by a rival for a son's affections.

1958 with Beatrix Lehmann and Patricia Neal - Original London Production

1999 with Sheila Gish and Rachel Weisz - Original West End London Production

2004 with Diana Rigg and Victoria Hamilton - 1st West End London Revival

Tennessee Williams' other plays seen on stage in London's West End include Sweet Bird of Youth; Cat on a Hot Tin Roof; The Night Of The Iguana; The Glass Menagerie; Baby Doll; and Summer and Smoke.


1958 with Beatrix Lehmann and Patricia Neal - Original London Production

Opened 16 September 1958, Closed 26 October 1958 at the Arts Theatre

Presented under the title Garden District as a Tennessee Williams double: Suddenly Last Summer / Something Unspoken.

The cast for Suddenly Last Summer featured Beatrix Lehmann as 'Mrs Venable', Patricia Neal as 'Catherine Holly', David Cameron as 'Dr Cukrowicz', Margo Jones as 'Miss Foxhill', Beryl Measor as 'Mrs Holly', Philip Bond as 'George Holly', and Gwen Nelson as 'Sister Felicity'.

The cast for Something Unspoken featured Beryl Measor as 'Cornelia Scott', and Beatrix Lehmann as 'Grace Lancaster'.

Directed by Hertbert Machiz, with sets by Stanley Moore, costumes by Michael Ellis, lighting by Michael Northern, and music by Ned Rorem.

Note: At the time the Arts Theatre was being run as a 'private' members theatre club.


1999 with Sheila Gish and Rachel Weisz - Original West End London Production

Previewed 8 April 1999, Opened 14 April 1999, Closed 10 July 1999 at the Comedy Theatre (now Harold Pinter Theatre)

Sean Mathias' revival of Tennessee Williams' Suddenly Last Summer in London starring Sheila Gish and Rachel Weisz

The cast featured Sheila Gish as 'Mrs Venable', Rachel Weisz as 'Catherine Holly', Gerard Butler as 'Dr Cukrowicz', Johanna Kirby as 'Miss Foxhill', Julia Swift as 'Mrs Holly', Tim Mathews as 'George Holly', and Patricia Boyer as 'Sister Felicity'.

Directed by Sean Mathias, with designs by Tim Hatley, lighting by Mark Henderson, music by Jason Carr, and sound by John A Leonard.

Sheila Gish's London theatre credits include 'Joanne' in Sam Mendes' revival of Stephen Sondheim's Company at the Donmar Warehouse in 1995, and transfer to the West End's Albery Theatre in 1996; 'Mrs Prentice' in John Tillinger's revival of Joe Orton's What the Butler Saw at the Hampstead Theatre in 1990, and transfer to the West End's Wyndham's Theatre 1991; and 'Isadora Duncan' in Tim Luscombe's production of Martin Sherman's When She Danced at the Kings Head Theatre in 1988.

Rachel Weisz's London theatre credits include 'Gilda' in Sean Mathias' revival of Noel Coward's Design for Living at the Donmar Warehouse in 1994, and transfer to the West End's Globe Theatre in 1995.

Sean Mathias' credits include the play Cowardice.

"Welcome to the Gothic world of Tennessee Williams, and this steamy shocker of a 1958 play about the mysterious death of an unknown poet who, like Dorian Gray, refused to grow old. The details emerge in an emotional power struggle between his mother, Mrs Venable, and the poet's cousin, Catharine, who accompanied the dead Sebastian on his last trip abroad... Sebastian was obviously an unconventional spirit hanging about watering holes and public beaches in search of casual sex. The way this emerges is a fine example of Williams's impassioned skill and although Sean Mathias's production is a little shrill as yet, you know you are in the presence of a theatrical poet of the first rank... The play finally grips like a vice, not least because of Tim Hatley's amazing design and Jason Carr's nerve-jangling soundtrack." The Daily Mail

"Sean Mathias directs with an unerring sense of style, content and feeling... Sheila Gish's Mrs Venable enters like a stricken empress... For her, an act of great natural injustice is being played out, but she needs every ounce of dignity to survive, and Gish's performance suggests both self-pity and anger... Playing Catharine is in some ways harder. Rachel Weisz looks both fragile and tenacious. A great deal of her performance depends on the way she uses her arms and legs: she is like a wounded bird, gracious and beautiful, but gawky... This is a riveting, unexpectedly mesmerising production. It catches Williams at the moment when his powers to control his material were just, only just, beginning to fail, but the glitter of his perceptions is still blindingly clear." The Sunday Times

"This is real life, real nightmare. A director's probably impossible task is to bind the two together. Director Sean Mathias doesn't pull it off, though he delivers the plot with high-pitched clarity and confidently superintends various performances from Sheila Gish a terrific, frightening, Bette Davis-style drawler and from Rachel Weisz, original in the delicacy of her derangement. Both are overwhelmed by Tim Hatley's design which, redolent of sterility rather than sexuality, shows bulging, overshot foliage sculpted in a desiccated pink: long thistles, stiff fronts, and the gaping Venus fly-trap mentioned in the opening sequence." The Observer

Suddenly Last Summer in London at the Comedy Theatre previewed from 8 April 1999, opened on 14 April 1999, and closed on 10 July 1999


2004 with Diana Rigg and Victoria Hamilton - 1st West End London Revival

Previewed 6 May 2004, Opened 14 May 2004, Closed 31 July 2004 at the Albery Theatre (now Noel Coward Theatre)

Michael Grandage's revival of Tennesse Williams' Suddenly Last Summer in London starring Dame Diana Rigg and Victoria Hamilton

The cast featured Diana Rigg as 'Mrs Venable' (except 30 June to 2 July), Victoria Hamilton as 'Catherine Holly', Mark Bazeley as 'Dr Cukrowicz', Jennifer McEvoy as 'Miss Foxhill', Abigail McKern as 'Mrs Holly', Patrick Kennedy as 'George Holly', and Virginia Denham as 'Sister Felicity'.

Directed by Michael Grandage, with designs by Christopher Oram, lighting by Howard Harrison, and music and sound by Adam Cork.

This production comes to London's West End following a successful season at the Sheffield Lyceum Theatre - previewed 12 February 2004, opened 17 February 2004, closed 28 February 2004 - and short regional tour, with the same cast.

Diana Rigg's London theatre credits include 'Huma Rojo' in Tom Cairns' production of Samuel Adamson's All About My Mother, based on the film by Pedro Almodovar, at the Old Vic Theatre in 2007; 'Flora Humble' in John Caird's production of Charlotte Jones' Humble Boy at the National Theatre's Cottesloe Theatre in 2001; 'Martha' in Howard Davies' revival of Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? at the Almeida Theatre, and transfer to the Aldwych Theatre in 1996; the title role in Jonathan Kent's revival of Bertolt Brecht's Mother Courage and Her Children at the National Theatre's Olivier Theatre in 1995; the title role in Jonathan Kent's revival of Euripides' Medea, in an adaptation by Alistair Elliot, at the Almeida Theatre in 1992, and transfer to the West End Wyndham's Theatre in 1993; 'Phyllis Stone' in Mike Ackrent's production of Stephen Sondheim's Follies at the Shaftesbury Theatre in 1987; 'Celimene' in John Dexter's revival of Moliere's The Misanthrope, for the National Theatre, at the Old Vic Theatre in 1973; 'Dottie' in Peter Wood's prodcution of Tom Stoppard's Jumpers, for the National Theatre, at the Old Vic Theatre in 1972; 'Lady Macbeth' in Michael Blakemore's revival of William Shakespeare's Macbeth, for the National Theatre, at the Old Vic Theatre in 1972; 'Bianca' in Maurice Daniels' revival of William Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew, for the Royal Shakespeare Company, at the Aldwych Theatre in 1961.

Victoria Hamilton's London theatre credits include 'Clare' in Stephen Poliakoff's production of his play Sweet Panic at the Duke of York's Theatre in 2003; 'Sheila' in Laurence Boswell's revival of Peter Nichols' A Day in the Death of Joe Egg at the Ambassadors Theatre, and transfer to the Comedy Theatre in 2001; 'Cressida' in Ian Judge's revival of William Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida, for the Royal Shakespeare Company, at the Barbican Theatre in 1996; 'Phebe' in Steven Pimlott's revival of William Shakespeare's As You Like It, for the Royal Shakespeare Company, at the Barbican Theatre in 1996; and 'Hilde Wangel' in Peter Hall's revival of Henrik Ibsen's The Master Builder at the Haymarket Theatre in 1995.

"It would be absurd to stage such a piece in an understated manner, and Michael Grandage's touring production, now at the Albery Theatre, sails confidently over the top. Christopher Oram's set is hemmed in by sinister vegetation. Adam Cork's soundtrack supplies menacing music and strange animal shrieks. Diana Rigg hams it up as Mrs Venable with a gusto of which Joan Crawford or Bette Davis might have been proud. It is left to Victoria Hamilton as Catherine to strike the one deeper note: she relives her past with a true tragic intensity. But for the rest, the play remains a curiosity - gaudy, theatrical, not to be taken too seriously." The Sunday Telegraph

"Dame Diana Rigg, a woman with a commanding physical presence, is in powerful form as a mother blindly besotted by her beastly son. She plays Mrs Venable as a wounded lioness determined to protect what is left of her offspring - his memory... In sharp and poignant contrast, tiny Victoria Hamilton's gentle, frightened Catherine has been rendered as weak as a kitten by drugs and electric shock treatment and now by this fearsome woman. Her intensely moving performance leaves you in no doubt that she is sane... She also pulls off the near impossible task of reliving Sebastian's savage murder on the beach and making it believable... This play has the exotic implausibility of an orchid, but while Michael Grandage boldly hammers home the theatricality, the performances have an emotional truth that gives it the hideous reality of a living nightmare." The Mail on Sunday

"Dame Diana can do evil matriarchs in her sleep, though here she's less than totally scary as the grand old dame who will do anything to protect her poet son's secret life. The real trump card in this production is Victoria Hamilton as the mentally unstable Catherine. Her terrified account of what happened on that beach last summer is a beacon of brilliant acting... Director Michael Grandage's satisfying production piles on the emotional excesses with relish. The production is cunningly staged in a cylindrical hothouse of nasty tropical plants and eerie screeching birds - the perfect setting for a drama from the heart of the human jungle." The Daily Express

Suddenly Last Summer in London at the Noel Coward Theatre previewed from 6 May 2004, opened on 14 May 2004, and closed on 31 July 2004.