One would hope that the board members of the Silo Theatre are giving grave consideration to the selection of artistic director Shane Bosher's replacement.

Bosher has long signalled his intentions to move on at the end of the year, in search of new adventures.

Under Bosher's guidance, the Silo has blossomed. It now boasts a broad, loyal following and a host of sell-out seasons under its belt. It is the place to go for edgy, contemporary theatre, but has also had phenomenal success with revivals of early to mid 20th-century plays such as Under Milkwood and The Women.

And Bosher looks like he is about to do it all again before he exits, stage right, in December. Opening tomorrow night is a season of Tennessee Williams' Suddenly Last Summer, and some performances have already sold out.

Set in the oppressive heat of a late 1930s New Orleans summer, the play is a chilling look at motherly love and jealousy, and how one woman seeks to silence the truth by erasing the past.

She hopes to do so by literally lobotomising her niece, the rival for her son's affections and the person who knows the truth behind his sudden death.

"I've had a fascination with this play for years and years," says Bosher. "When I discovered Tennessee Williams, I devoured his plays one after the other. Aside from A Streetcar Named Desire, this is the one I keep coming back to.

"I think it's because of my interest in the machinations of psychology. This is the one Tennessee Williams play that delves into it so explicitly."

Suddenly Last Summer was written in 1958, after Williams had undergone extensive psychoanalysis in the hope of alleviating a major depression. His last two plays had been savaged by the critics, he was in a turbulent romantic relationship, and he carried with him the guilt of his own sister's fate.

"This was his most autobiographical play," says Bosher. "It is a thinly veiled depiction of himself, his mother and his sister. In 1937, when the play is set, his sister Rose was lobotomised. His mother organised Rose's lobotomy without Williams' knowledge."

Bosher and his actors - Toni Potter, Jacque Drew and Jeff Szusterman - initially explored relocating the play to New Zealand, alluding to this country's own chequered history of mental health care and famous cases such as Janet Frame.

"We tried the lines with a New Zealand accent, and it simply didn't work. Tennessee Williams' plays have a certain rhythm and flow, and the speech has particular tonal qualities which place it firmly in the American South."

The Silo production is unusual in that it is based on the screenplay that Williams wrote with Gore Vidal, for the 1959 film starring Katharine Hepburn and Elizabeth Taylor, rather than the original stage-play. Williams and Vidal changed the plot from its argument and rebuttal origins, into a compelling psychological thriller.

"Suddenly Last Summer is infrequently performed, and has never been big in New Zealand," says Bosher.

"If a theatre company decides to do Tennessee Williams, it tends to be Cat On A Hot Tin Roof or A Streetcar Named Desire. No one does Orpheus Descending or many of the others.

"And The Rose Tattoo closed the Mercury," he laughs. "It needs 20 actors, including children, plus a goat. Although I remember it was a great production.

"But Suddenly Last Summer is one of the plays that signalled a change in the tides for drama. The stage directions were revolutionary in 1958. For example, they are very detailed in the description of the sound design, which creates a surreal landscape. You can hear the lushness of the garden.

"We have pared it back a bit, because the original staging, although revolutionary then, would seem cheesy to us now. But the story is so rich and lush in texture that the story is enough."


* What: Suddenly Last Summer
* Where: Silo Theatre
* When: from tomorrow until June 11