There is a house in New Orleans

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The Tron offers a startling vision of N’Yahlins in Suddenly Last Summer and Like The Rain, writes Tom Bonnick

The near-magical list of ingredients that have come together to form the Tron Theatre’s new production of Suddenly Last Summer — writing by the 20th Century’s greatest dramatist, Tennessee Williams; direction by Glasgow’s finest, Andy Arnolds; and some association with Glasgay!, who, as their exclamation mark denote, are always fun — meant that reality would almost certainly not meet my unreasonably inflated expectations.

In fairness, the results came respectably close, but only as evening became sweet Lady Nighttime and the main event gave way for a second Williams Play, Like The Rain, did things really kick off.

Suddenly Last Summer is, in many respects, a work that anticipates the themes of Williams’ most lauded and well-known plays, namely A Streetcar Named Desire and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Whilst the story, of the terrifying, elderly matriarch Mrs Venable and her hell-bent intention of keeping the details surrounding the death of her son secret, does not particularly resemble those of any of the playwright’s other works, it is the motifs of female insanity (a subject close to Williams’ heart after his sister underwent a lobotomy) and squabbling, money-grabbing family members that resonate.

The former of these ideas is depicted outstandingly by Claire Yuille who, as Catharine Holly, faces the same ignominious ‘treatment’ as Williams’ sibling after confronting Mrs Venable — her aunt — with the details of her cousin’s grisly death.

Yuille is moving and sympathetic in her portrayal of Catharine, resisting the temptation to reduce the role to a Blanche DuBois parody, a fate that might have befallen lesser performers, and she endows the character with tenderness, intellect and confusion.

However, along with Morag Stark (Mrs Venable) — who channels the spirit of Vivien Leigh-cum-Nurse Ratched to great effect — the two players may as well be in a wholly separate play to that of the remaining cast. Jonny Austin and Jill Riddiford are somewhat less convincing as the gold-digging family members, and at times may as well have been reading from an autocue for all the commitment they imbue their parts with — as well as evidently possessing fewer qualms vis-à-vis resorting to the “Aahm a suuth’nah” drawling trope of Williams’ drama so adroitly avoided by Yuille.

By the time the play reached its gruesome denouement, I found it hard to relate to the incipient poetry of Williams’ stagecraft, so disconnecting was the gulf between performances.

Incredibly, one short break later and things became exponentially — almost unbelievably — better, in Like The Rain, a collection of three short tableaux. I don’t know whether it was the glass of wine I had sunk in the interval, the dark, intimate space of the Tron’s Changing House, or the insidious power of witchcraft, but the erstwhile unremarkable ensemble returned to deliver a series of commanding, brilliant vignettes.

Any trace of mediocrity on Riddiford’s part was completely dispelled by her delicate rendering of a cathouse proprietor in Hello From Bertha, and Austin’s reading of a hillbilly school-dropout in This Property is Condemned is similarly redemptive.

I came to indulge in an evening of high-camp melodrama and stayed to pray. Arnolds has cemented his reputation as Scotland’s foremost theatrical director, and whilst Suddenly Last Summer is never less than entertaining, in Like The Rain he has produced a sustained and beautiful drama that entirely does justice to Williams’ work.