Q&A with Summer and Smoke's Rebecca Frecknall

Q&A with Summer and Smoke's Rebecca Frecknall

Updated On: Oct 31, 2018
By Amanda Parry
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    We caught up with Rebecca Frecknall, director of Summer and Smoke at the Duke of York's Theatre.

    What attracted you to Summer and Smoke and why did you choose to direct this play?

    I first came across the play as a student when I saw a production in the West End. I just remember finding it incredibly moving and the emotion of it stayed with me for days after. I guess the plight of the central character struck a chord with me and that resonance is the reason I wanted to do my own production. I felt I had a particular perspective on Alma’s story.

    In what ways do you think the themes of the play are still relevant today?

    I think that in many ways the themes of the play will continue to be relevant forever because Williams is always trying to deal with the big questions that surround human existence; love, loss, mortality, identity, spirituality. However, his exploration and portrayal of anxiety and depression in his protagonist, and both Alma and John’s struggle with societal and family pressure feel particularly resonant with many young people’s experiences today.

    Is there a particular character you feel most affinity with? If so, which one and why?

    I have always felt a striking affinity with Alma, and actually have always felt Williams himself was a bit of a kindred spirit! I suppose I really recognise Alma’s struggles in the play and that’s why telling her story feels so personal and important to me.

    You’ve previously discussed the inequality that pervades theatre, do you think this is changing and what more do you think should be done to counter-act this?

    It’s true that we’re at a point where the industry it’s attempting to rectify its long history of inequality and yes, of course, there’s still some way to go. I’ve always felt I had a fortunate experience in that when working as an Assistant Director I assisted as many female directors as male so I’ve always had strong female role models in the industry. I think often change needs to come from the top, from our artistic leaders making bold decisions that can push equality, diversity and the art form forward. There are a few key Artistic Directorships that have just come up that could provide an exciting moment of change.

    Pianos and music are a key feature in this production – how do you feel that the musical elements underpin and contribute to the play?

    The concept for Tom Scutt’s design came from our desire to find something that could unlock the play; that could elevate it from its time and place and allow a contemporary audience to connect to it in a really open emotional way. In the original production Williams writes that there should be a stone angel fountain present onstage throughout, a clear symbol alluding to the plays exploration of eternity and the soul. In many ways the pianos are our interpretation of this idea of putting ‘eternity’ onstage. The music offers a tangible link to the spiritual, to the themes of time and the human soul.

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    Summer and Smoke
    Following the Almeida Theatre’s critically acclaimed, sold-out run, Sonia Friedman Productions transfers Rebecca Frecknall’s ‘shiveringly beautiful production’...
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