Andrea Demetriades and Socrates Otto unite on stage for the first time in Tennessee Williams’ gothic melodrama, Suddenly Last Summer for Sydney’s Ensemble Theatre. Williams’ 1958 disturbing one-act play is focuses on Mrs Violet Venable, whose son Sebastian died in suddenly under mysterious while on holiday.
Mrs Venable, a wealthy widow, invites a doctor to her home, and with the promise of a generous donation to the doctor’s psychiatric research, tries to persuade him to perform a lobotomy on her niece, Catharine, now confined to a private mental asylum but who was with Sebastian and witnessed his death.
Mrs Venable wants to suppress Catharine’s account of how her son Sebastian died to protect her own reputation and to stop Catherine’s family contesting his will. The play explores toxic family dynamics and the dramatic consequences of dishonesty.
Both actors, with their shared Greek heritage, bring an added layer of connection and intensity to their characters, and promise an explosive chemistry that will undoubtedly keep audiences on the edge of their seats.
Demetriades, known for her recent role in Channel 7‘s The Claremont Murders, takes on the lead role of Catharine Holly, while Otto, celebrated for his work on Wentworth, portrays George Holly, Catharine’s brother. Directed by Shaun Rennie, the production also features a talented cast including Justin Amankwah, Valerie Bader, Belinda Giblin, and Kate Skinner, who come together to delve into the shadow aspects of the human experience through powerful performances.
UNVEILING THE INTRICATE WORLD OF ‘SUDDENLY LAST SUMMER’
Discussing their roles and the significance of character development, Demetriades reflects on the richness of Williams’ writing, excited to shed light on the topics the play focuses on and how the production is translates those into contemporary culture.
“With Tennessee Williams, it’s all in the text, really. The punctuation, the text grants you everything you need to know about the characters,” Andrea tells Neos Kosmos.
“It is a poetic, intense masterpiece. The plot revolves around Sebastian Venable, who died mysteriously last summer, and his mother Violet will do anything in her power to protect his memory – and her own reputation. Catharine, who I play, is the cousin and also was the only witness. She wants to reveal what really happened, but Violet takes things far in an effort to hide the truth.”
She highlights the emotional journey her character undergoes, sharing, that like many women, “Catharine has had a traumatic experience. She has been put into a mental asylum for four months and now she’s been released for the day to tell the story of what actually happened that day, when the traumatic incident occurred.”
Drawing inspiration from Tennessee Williams’ own tragic life, the characters in ‘Suddenly Last Summer’ embody the dysfunction and trauma prevalent in society.
“He’s written about himself in every play. All his family are in these characters,” Otto explained, emphasising the personal connection both actors have with their roles.
Demetriades, known for her ability to convey raw emotions, discussed the unique approach used to portray her character’s emotional journey.
“With Williams, even though the play was written in the 1950s you get all your character from the text. You don’t really put on a character, but you know the given circumstances and the circumstances are very relevant.”
For Demetriades, being able to portray the turmoil her character is in accurately is crucial. The relationship with her family and especially with her brother is oppressive and violent and to be able to embody those scenes emotionally and physically, she says it is essential to feel very safe and connected with her colleagues.
BEHIND THE SCENES – DEMETRIADES’ AND OTTOS’ RELATIONSHIP
Otto, who had previously collaborated with Rennie on another Tennessee Williams classic, “Baby Doll”, shares his excitement about working with Demetriades, emphasising their natural connection.
“I loved working on Baby Doll, it was an incredibly cinematic experience happening live on stage,” Otto says.”I’ve known Andrea for a while but we haven’t had a chance to work together. So when I saw that she got cast as Catherine in this show I called Sean and Andrew and I asked to audition to play her brother; we have a very similar look. That’s how I got to be cast in this. He’s a very interesting character, a dark antihero. I’m really really lucky. As soon as we go on stage, I feel very comfortable with her,” he says.
“He’s such an adored, amazing actor that I don’t have to do any… I just trust him,” Andrea fires back. “The complex sibling relationship, allows our existing friendship to translate into a genuine and powerful stage dynamic. It’s amazing because we’re playing family. It’s always something that is a bit difficult on stage. You have to build up that familial relationship, but with Socrates it feels natural.”
Both actors underscore the importance of connection, trust, in live theatre.
“We play eight shows a week,” Andrea adds dubbing each performance “a transformative experience”, each being unique and shaped by the energy of the audience.
“That’s why theater is so extraordinary because it changes every night, and you’ve got to be really present and make sure that you’re in the here and the now,” Otto enthuses.
“I am grateful. I’ve been in the biz for 20 years and it’s rare to get on a project and have this kind of trust and alchemical connection… It’s intrinsic, and I’ve really wanted to work with her for so long.”
DRAWING PARALLELS WITH THE GREEK AUSTRALIAN IDENTITY AND RAISING AWARENESS
Demetriades and Otto also explore the universal themes presented in Suddenly Last Summer, through an immigrant’s lens. The play delves into the silencing of women’s truths, the impact of secrets, and the intergenerational trauma that often exists within families.
“Unfortunately [these] are very prevalent within the Greek Australian identity, especially when it comes to first and second generation migrant experiences, and at the same time, extend beyond the Hellenic diaspora culture,” Demetriades states.
Otto also draws parallels between the play and his own Greek heritage.”I can understand where George is coming from because I’ve experienced that through my culture. He’s a greedy, abusive man who values reputation above all else, while Catharine, played by Andrea, stands for truth and sincerity. It definitely strikes a chord…,” he stresses.
The hope the play will raise awareness and provoke thought, after all “it is what art is meant to do”.
This side of the plot, featured in the relationship between Catharina and George offers a unique opportunity to shed light on the prevalence of family violence, not just within Greek families but also within migrant communities at large, Demetriades tells Neos Kosmos.
Echoing the same sentiments, Otto points out that the prevalence of toxic masculinity an issue that has been passed down generationally, “an unspoken truth, that needs to be unshamed and moved through our systems”.
“Through our portrayal of these complex characters, we hope to challenge societal norms and confront the toxic dynamics that fuel family violence. By exposing the dysfunction and trauma within the play, we aim to encourage empathy and understanding, creating a space for healing and change.”
When: 15t May – 10 June 2023 Where: Ensemble Theatre, 78 McDougall Street, NSW
Kirribilli Tickets: $38-80 via www.ensemble.com.au/shows/suddenly-last-summer/