That was February in London theatre - new plays, keeping it in the family and some wizard celeb spots
Review: Brutal, cold, dystopian Macbeth, National Theatre and a Children of Men comparison

Review: The heartbreaking Summer and Smoke, Almeida Theatre

Summer and Smoke is tender and delicate and yet simultaneously as emotionally intense as the heat of the season during which it is set.

Tennessee William's Summer and Smoke is a coming of age story, a self-discovery story and a heart-breaking love story.

Set in a small, gossipy, Mississippi town during a hot summer Alma (Patsy Ferran) is the minister's daughter chaste, principled, spiritual and spirited. John (Matthew Needham) is the doctor's son and is more material and physical.

Summer_and_Smoke_FINAL_banner_1470x690Both are products of their upbringing and feel trapped by it. Alma's mother has had some sort of nervous breakdown pushing Alma into the position of carer and house-keeper.

John is expected to follow in his father's footsteps and feels the weight of that expectation, he seeks out physical diversion and satisfaction whether that is alcohol or girls.

Alma has long harboured feelings for John and there is obviously a spark between them that always seems on the verge of fully igniting. Is it their different outlooks? Is it denial of a different side of themselves? Is it fear of being trapped or fear of giving themselves over to another physically and emotionally?

The story plays out on a dirt stage fringed by a semi-circle of upright pianos which are played by the extended cast. It serves to surround the two central characters with both melody and more discordant music.

The on-stage chemistry between Patsy Ferran and Matthew Needham sings out and the play wouldn't work without it. It is tender, delicate, visceral and physical; the sexual and emotional tension is palpable.

It is heartbreaking to watch and speaks not just of love but of an inner turmoil, youth grappling with who they are, what they might be and their place in the world.

Alma and John are victims of their own insecurities and of circumstance. They are pushing against internal and external boundaries and they have to break through, the tragedy is what happens when they do.

Summer and Smoke is tender and delicate and yet simultaneously as emotionally intense as the heat of the season during which it is set. Patsy Ferran and Matthew Needham are mesmerising to watch.

I'm giving it 5 stars and it is two hours and 40 minutes including an interval. See it at the Almeida Theatre until April 7.

Related content:

Watch: Summer and Smoke cast and director Rebecca Frecknall talk about the themes of the play

Listen: Patsy Ferran and Rebecca Frecknall were guests on BBC Radio 4's Woman's Hour

My review of Patsy Ferran in My Mother's A Twat, Royal Court