We are in the steamy, semi-tropical landscape of Louisiana.
Sebastian died last summer whilst in Europe. The circumstances of that death are unclear and this is the central theme of the play. Sebastian’s mother, Violet Venable, is convinced that her niece, Catherine Holly, who was with Sebastian at the time, carries responsibility for his death. As the play progresses it becomes apparent the Sebastian was homosexual and that both his mother and his cousin, Catherine were not above pimping for him. His mother is keen to suppress this and, to that end, is promoting Catherine as insane – even to the point of encouraging Catherine’s neurosurgeon, Dr Cukrowicz, to consider lobotomy. Ultimately the true nature of Sebastian’s death is revealed.
The first half an hour of the play is largely a monologue from Violet Venables (Sue Moore) with brief interjections from Dr Cukrowicz (Paul Atkins). The language is darkly poetic with frequent imagery of predation. A savage world is described full of unforgiving forces of nature. Sue Moore certainly gives us the hauteur of the southern aristocrat and handles the part with assurance and a rolling anger which underpins her performance. Given the length of this section a richer, more varied palette would have helped. We might have found her reflecting on past events with some sad pleasure. Also the actor’s instinct to become almost inaudible at the most introspective moments was a distraction.
The last half hour of the play very much belongs to Catherine Holly and what a brilliant, passionate feast she makes of it. She moves from defending herself, to attacking her aunt and narrating the events surrounding Sebastian’s death with great skill. Many changes of gear here and Sophie Dyke has given us a hugely effective introduction to her considerable abilities.
Paul Aitkin’s Doctor Cukrowicz is largely there to service the battle between Violet and Catherine. Nevertheless it needs a quiet authority and this performance has the right weight to provoke the explosive and revealing reactions of the two women.
The other three or four roles are very peripheral and yet, here, played well and with confidence.
Although accents are brave rather than accurate and the emotions have something of an Anglo-Saxon reserve rather than a full blown Latin expression we are given a welcome opportunity to enjoy a seldom performed piece.
Dombey & son