Dame Diana's tour de force

JOHN LAWSON A play about cannibalism and insanity is never going to make for a comfortable evening's entertainment.But what could undeniably be enjoyed were two theatrical tours de forces from the central characters Catherine Holly and Mrs Venable played by Victoria Hamilton and Dame Diana Rigg.

JOHN LAWSON

A play about cannibalism and insanity is never going to make for a comfortable evening's entertainment.

But what could undeniably be enjoyed were two theatrical tours de forces from the central characters Catherine Holly and Mrs Venable played by Victoria Hamilton and Dame Diana Rigg.

Both are faced with speeches of amazing length and complexity, the language heavy with convoluted metaphor and twisting, tumbling phrasing amid characterisation demanding every level of dark, brooding emotion.

Every anguished moment of their tortured existances, as the mother who has lost her son both spiritually and physically, and the young cousin who has been driven to the edge of madness because she is haunted by the manner of his death and her guilt at her inability to prevent it, is wrung from their performances.

Brooding sound effects devised by Adam Cork add to the underlying menace amid Christopher Oram's stunning garden set which spews symbolically across the stage like a body torn apart.

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What is less palatable is that what Williams has created is little more than a self-indulgent diatribe as he tries to exorcise his own personal demons.

Like a number of his other works, Williams uses his reputation as an established playwright to be able air the traumas of his own life in public - having the cathartic effect of helping him deal with them.

He achieves it with some remarkable use of language and in that he must be applauded, but his obsession with violence, sadism and a whole gamut of other taboo subjects shows a man as tortured as his subjects.

And he rather heavy-handedly reprises the unseen son Sebastian's memory of watching new born turtles torn to pieces on a beach by a flock of birds, with Sebastian's own death at the hands of a pack of starving children.

From a storytelling point of view, Suddenly Last Summer could be over in half an hour and we would be no less enlightened about the characters' respective positions - and the throwaway resolution provides no closure on the story.

Perhaps that's the point - but it left me for one unfulfilled.

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