Suddenly Last Summer, Sheffield Lyceum

A torrent of poetry born of a grisly death
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The Independent Culture

Suddenly, last summer, Sebastian died. In Tennessee Williams's drama, Suddenly Last Summer , the dead poet's apparently flawless character is painted in glowing colours by his adoring mother Violet Venable.

The grisly manner of his death, as "babbled" about by his cousin Catharine, is too horrible, Violet convinces herself, to be the truth. Catharine must be silenced to stop her sullying Sebastian's memory; the ambitious Dr Cukrowicz must be bought off.

Formidable in her cunning, as played by Diana Rigg with the steely determination and mirthless humour of a possessive wealthy New Orleans grande dame, Violet has no scruples. If a lobotomy doesn't stop Catharine's mouth, she observes, "After the operation, who will believe her?"

The stage of Sheffield's Lyceum Theatre is dominated by a huge metallic cylinder. Christopher Oram's set design alone is worth the price of the ticket as this enormous structure opens to reveal a stunning if sinister tropical garden. The light and shade reflect the brighter and then the darker and more base dimensions to Sebastian's life as the narrative unfolds.

Catharine's vacuous mother and callous brother also want the truth suppressed, since Violet is blocking Sebastian's bequest to his cousins. But Catharine, the only witness to the ghastly reality or possibly the grim fantasy of Sebastian's death, sticks to her ghoulish story, which finally erupts in a blazing, unstoppable flow.

Victoria Hamilton plays Catharine with a mixture of vulnerability and feistiness, while caught in a nightmare of incarceration in an asylum ruled by nuns. Mark Bazeley's sympathetic Dr Cukrowicz is trapped between these women, unsure with whom to ally himself.

Michael Grandage's production is beautifully paced, and benefits from a wholly reliable supporting cast.

The Southern drawl might prove problematic, and the sense of some of Williams's rich rushing torrents of words may not always be easy to catch. And why the credibility of Catharine's account should be undermined here by cutting her brother's last and redeeming line is puzzling.