A year and a half ago I saw Summer and Smoke at LAMDA’s Linbury Studio, and I still remember it as clearly as if it was yesterday. A dark, claustrophobic drama about not saying enough and missing opportunities. With some of the best performances I had seen up until that point or have witnessed since. So often the things you find brilliant are so fleeting that they never get the chance to make the impact that they should, and so I was filled with enormous pleasure when I found out that the show was to be re-produced this summer at the Southwark Playhouse. I caught up with the shows two leads, Curran McKay and Kate Lamb to talk about reviving the show and dusting off their old costumes again.
Alright Curran and Kate?
Kate: Alright, nice to see you!
Curran: Im great thanks Kieran. Congrats on tying the knot!
Thank you! So… Summer in Smoke is performed at the Southwark Playhouse this summer what can you tell us about it?
Kate: Wow, ok well it’s a little known Tennessee Williams play, and it’s just a beautiful piece. I think what stands it apart from other Williams plays is perhaps its simplicity. The main characters are young, and an obvious product of their circumstances. As a result they pass each other by and hurt each other terribly without ever wanting to. It’s a very simple tragedy and utterly compelling because of that.
Curran: The story involves two people who are polar opposites in their spirituality and their lifestyles, and are drawn to each other because of it. Because it’s Williams, the writing is poetic and he paints an authentic depiction of small town life and how stifling it can be. This will be only the second time the play has ever been performed in London, which is surprising as it is a strong following in the States
Kate: I play Alma, the town minister’s daughter.
Curran: And I play John, a doctor returning from medical school.
Are there particular challenges about performing a Tennessee Williams text?
Kate: Well Williams writes characters that don’t really exist anymore. It’s an incredibly different time and place so calling on experience isn’t useful for that side of things. But, on the flip side he writes such complete, real people that it isn’t hard to get inside and understand them.
Curran: Sometimes its particularly difficult as he writes with such expression and composition that its challenging to deliver in a naturalistic fashion. It can be even harder hitting to an audience than naturalistic text if you get it right but you gotta work twice as hard to hit it.
You’ve done this show before haven’t you?
Kate: We did five shows a year and a half ago for Rebecca Frecknall’s final showcase at LAMDA. We were all so proud of it, that when the chance came to do it again, we jumped.
Curran: Its a show I’m particularly proud to be associated with, and it deserved another run.
Is it nice working with the same people again?
Kate: It’s brilliant. We already have a short hand when working together and we keep remembering all the stupid stuff we got up to last time and wasting rehearsals.
Curran: Im still astounded so many of the original team are on board! Jenna flew from New York to do it!
Kate you have worked with Rebecca Frecknall several times what is it that you like abouy working with her?
Kate: She’s got this brilliant vision for things and she doesn’t just ‘believe’ in collaborative theatre making- for her, it’s like breathing; there’s no other way. It’s incredibly liberating and terrifying as an actor. That and she can tell me when something’s crap without making me think I’M crap. You laugh, but that’s a skill not all directors possess!
Kate: We tried something a bit risky last time and it wasn’t until the first show that we realised it actually worked. Basically now that we know it does, we’re looking to be bolder with it and embrace it more. Oh and I think curran and I might actually learn our lines this time.
Curran: I cant promise anything about the lines, but we’re certainly more confident as an ensemble this time round. Rebecca made a bold decision in having the townsfolk presented as a chorus which gave this cloud of oppression over Alma and John. We’re taking that idea even further than last time. Also theres a few practical things like adapting the show to a new space.
When is it being performed and how can people buy tickets?
Southwark playhouse vaults from 13th-30th June. Tickets available from the website NOW!!
What are your favourite films?
Kate: ET and The Sting. Old classics really. I really appreciate JJ Abrahms’ ET homage in Super 8 but nothing’s really captured the cheek and spirit of The Sting. I love that old grifter talk – ‘you got Moxy, kid’ – what I wouldn’t give for someone to say that to me.
C: Cliched, but im gonna have to go with Godfather II. Because its great. Chris Nolan’s early stuff too: Memento is a top 5.
Who are your favourite actors?
Kate: Um, I go through phases but at the moment I’m loving what Curran McKay’s doing. (laughs). And I think Jodie Whittaker has had a very enviable career so far.
Curran: Thanks Kate! I think James Gandolfini (Tony Soprano in The Sopranos) gives some incredibly complex performances. Ive never seen Kevin Spacey do anything I didnt like. Oh and uh, Kate Lamb….shes in this play at the moment…
If you could perform as any character in any play at any venue what would it be and where?
Kate: Richard II at the globe I think. That’d be a challenge.
Curran: Id love to play Jimmy Porter in Look Back in Anger. Venue’s not important.
I can not recommend this production highly enough – if you have opinions about Tennessee Williams it will change them, if you don’t, you will never watch his plays in the same way again. Stunning and sure, if you see one thing this summer this should be it!
Summer and Smoke runs from the 13th to the 30th of June at the Southwark Playhouse and tickets can be bought from the website: http://southwarkplayhouse.co.uk/the-vault/summer-and-smoke/