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Review | Summer and Smoke at The Duke of York’s Theatre

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Summer and Smoke at the Duke Of Yorks Theatre directed by Rebecca Frecknall - photo credit Marc Brenner.

A poetic vision of human nature and our existential struggle to forge the middle ground between body and soul. After writing his (in)famous A Streetcar Named Desire, Tennessee Williams gave birth to Summer and Smoke in 1948, and The London Magazine had the pleasure of attending the latest adaptation by director Rebecca Frecknall held at the Duke of York’s Theatre.

Summer and Smoke begins as an unruly exploration on human appetites, specifically focusing on sexual appetites and how suppressed desires can formulate into nervous dispositions.

Patsy Ferran as Alma Winemiller – Photo credit Marc Brenner.

Patsy Ferran did a superb job of embodying William’s Alma Winemiller – a frantic, naive and anxious being plagued by constant panic attacks and a permanently jittery disposition. Unable to understand her primal desires, she is simultaneously traumatised and aroused by even the slightest sexual inclination from her male peers. We come to find that her overly sensitive attitude is rather jarring, wanting her to act out on the primal desires that she fails to acknowledge rather than restricting herself in her need for piety and self-preservation. Though she possesses a humorous undertone, Alma is at large a devastating mirror for women carrying the burden of shame imposed by a rather soulless patriarchal world.

Matthew Needham as John Buchanan – Photo credit Marc Brenner.

Where Alma centres around the soul, William’s John Buchanan represents bodily desires. John is the personification of vibrant male energy turned wild in a stagnant and entrapping society. Matthew Needham‘s performance was powerful enough that the audience actually suffers as we witness John lead a path of selfishness, leaving only devastation and destruction in his wake. He, the archetypal southern man, is completely opposite to the prim and proper archetypal southern woman who is innocent, delicate, devotional and self-sacrificial. Male culture loud and exciting against the sheepishness of domestication. Always judging one another, and yet, the irony is that both are acting out of fear, though it is a fear for completely different things.

“… We operate under the misguided belief that the soul is bodiless, and the body is soulless..”

The two juxtaposing psychologies establish the uneasy link between the body and the soul at the heart of all human experience. We operate under the misguided belief that the soul is bodiless, and the body is soulless. Spirit and flesh against each other. Rather, the two require a co-existence which we do not allow for. Christianity demanding humility and purity where male tradition demands competitiveness and aggressiveness, the two are never given the space to intertwine.

Summer and Smoke at the Duke Of Yorks Theatre – photo credit Marc Brenner.

Summer and Smoke’s second act is centred around metamorphosis, as self-destructive tendencies reach a devastating climax.

The emotional presence of Patsy Ferran playing Alma was pretty outstanding as she shifts from nervous, frantic, and jittery into a deeply melancholic sadness. Loneliness and rejection are at the heart of her metamorphosis, with no stable personality possible in such a hostile and confining environment. We knew that change was going to come as John presented the audience with the idea that alma possesses a trapped doppelgänger at the beginning of the play – the second half is thus our witnessing of the doppelgänger gradually coming into consciousness. Alma becomes defiant against authority, and as cold emotionally, spiritually and verbally as winter, her suppressed desires becoming explicit as she recognizes her own divided nature.

“Tell them I’ve changed, and you’re waiting to see in what way” she exclaims.

Much to our dismay, even though Alma moves past propriety and sets a path towards sensual pleasures, John moves towards tradition and away from bodily pleasures. A fatal passing of two ships at night, it seems fated that John and Alma’s two worlds will never collide.

Frecknall’s dimly-lit and atmospheric pays homage to Williams original intention for a more sentimental than realistic world. Frecknall was experimental with her use of prop, occupying the stage with five beautifully rustic grand pianos that provided the acoustic soundtrack. Though we did not witness the extravagant skies and colour harmonies that Williams stressed for, we experienced a new and innovative touch on a classic that highly paid off. The actors valiantly embodied their roles and offered acute representations of Williams symbolic characters – perhaps the only jarring characterisation was the portrayal of the Mexican characters which felt a little outdated in their drunken misogyny, though Frecknall was staying faithful to Williams whose characterisation is a reflection of his times. Nevertheless, Anjanna Vasan provided a beautifully tantalizing portrayal of they young seductress Rosa Gonzales, a familiar face seen in TV series Black Mirror. The passion of our playwright Tennessee Williams was apparent in the very fibres of this recent adaptation.

Summer and Smoke at the Duke Of Yorks Theatre – photo credit Marc Brenner.

A heart-breaking play, with a powerful symbolic message on human experience; do not miss Rebecca Frecknall’s adaptation of Tennessee Williams highly-acclaimed Summer and Smoke, running until January 19th.

Words by Briony Willis.

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Tennessee Williams Summer and SmokeDirected by Rebecca Frecknall

Duke of York’s Theatre, Saturday 10th  November 2018 – Saturday 19th January 2019

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Review | Burning Woman by Lucy H. Pearce

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Designed to teach, inspire and empower generations of women who suffer from a deep internal burning; Burning Woman is a non-fictional, controversial exploration into how shame and guilt permeates the female identity. A book that gets to the very heart of a universal feminine affliction.

Published in 2016, Lucy H. Pearce’s Burning Woman is one of her seven books which specialise in exploring the field of the feminine. Despite being published just over two years ago, the timeless book remains relevant for generations of women past, present and future. As a writer, Lucy guides women to reconnect and harness their intuitive yet deeply suppressed female power. Her tone fits perfectly with Womancraft Publishing’s overall ethos – to celebrate “paradigm shifting books by women for women”.

Before venturing further into the contents of the book, it would seem an injustice to not speak on the beautiful and captivating cover art by Robin Lea Quinlivan. Titled ‘Waiting to Fly’, the artwork encapsulates the books pivotal theme of lifting oneself from restraints. We witness a rising phoenix, illustrated with vibrant oranges, reds and yellows – perfectly preparing the reader for the novels contents.

Burning Woman is separated into twelve chapters flowing seamlessly into eachother. Without revealing too much; the book begins by defining the Burning Woman archetype, leading to how femininity is scorned and suppressed by patriarchal power, until finally offering insight as to how we can build a positive relationship with our feminine essences. Each chapter concludes with exercises for those who feel inspired, or perhaps experimental, and wish to take their reading experience further. The book is a manual on how to cultivate, nurture and release the innate power in our feminine roots, without it being destructive.

Though the novel centres around femininity, it would be misguided to assume that men are excluded from Burning Woman. Lucy gives space to the male perspective in her third chapter titled ‘The Masculine Dark’, with its subsections ‘The Dark Arts of The Patriarchy’, ‘Fear’ and ‘Shame’. Lucy reminds readers that feminine exists within the masculine, as depicted by the Chinese Ying and Yang, or Carl Jung’s Anima and Animus. The feminine essence innate to men undergoes the same burning from shame and guilt that constitutes a woman’s existence in patriarchy.

As the nature of the book is an investigation into the relationship between feminine power and shame; Lucy draws upon many spiritual and intellectual speakers alongside her own experiences, to give a detailed and thorough perspective. The book offers a comforting community of men and women who challenge patriarchal conventions, including psychoanalyst Carl Jung, Activist Leymah Gbowee, and Author/psychologist Clarissa Pinkola Estes of Women Who Run with the Wolves. Thus, Burning Woman satisfies our appetite for resistance, which, prior to reading, we may not know we had.

It comes as no surprise that the book received the Nautilus Silver Award in 2017 in the woman’s section, as well as being an Amazon bestseller. Spoken in the first person (sometimes plural for affect), Lucy’s tone is engaging and informal; ironically fiery at times, and extremely stripped back as she delves into the deep and existential topic of the female identity. Though the opening suffers with a somewhat slow and repetitive start, Lucy makes up for this as the narrative quickly builds momentum.

Lucy’s fifth chapter titled ‘The Feminine Dark’ is a particular favourite of mine. With the subsections ‘Initiations into Darkness’, ‘Journeys to the Underworld’, ‘Going Dark’, ‘Womb Space – Feminine Heart of Darkness’, ‘The Unconscious’, and ‘Dreams and Visions’, this chapter gets to the root of female suffering. One of her faster-paced sections, Lucy explores the negative influence of patriarchal attitudes; re-defining our dark selves which we are taught to fear as transformative.

It is difficult to fully articulate the experience of reading Burning Woman. Beautiful words by a beautiful soul; Lucy H. Pearce takes the reader on a journey of unlocking and empowering the hidden and oppressed parts of the female psyche. I like to view the book as a gateway; an introduction into the grand and complex world of the feminine unconscious, and its archetypes. The beginning of the journey to understanding one’s self.

For those who enjoy Lucy’s exploration of the feminine, Burning Woman’s sister book titled Medicine Woman: Reclaiming the Soul of Healing is scheduled to be released this October.

Burning WomanLucy H. Pearce, Womancraft Publishing, pp. 240, £10.99.

Words by Briony Willis

Get the book here

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