ArtSpoken & Reviews
Last Summer by Craig Higginson
Caroline Smart: Higginson steers what could be a sentimental love story onto a higher plane.
Novelist, playwright and theatre director Craig Higginson's third novel is Last Summer. Currently the Literary Manager of the Market Theatre in Johannesburg, he teaches writing at the University of the Witwatersrand. Last Summer is set in Stratford upon Avon, the home of the Royal Shakespeare Company where he spent ten years.
His story is about theatre people and is placed, appropriately, around the Royal Shakespeare Theatre complex and not far from the famed Dirty Duck pub - where directors, actors and actresses live out their lives both on stage and off, and where emotions blur between the real and the staged. Relationships are forged and broken, more often because the protagonists infuse them with more complexity than the relationships demand.
The central character is a young man called Tom who, when we meet him, is the assistant director to Harry who seems to be quietly disengaging himself from this life until his past love comes thundering back to disrupt his world. Tom suffers unrequited love for one of the RSC's leading ladies, Lucy, who is strapped into a dysfunctional relationship with a verbally abusive boyfriend. Lucy may or may not have any idea of the depth of Tom's affections but nevertheless, she falls in love with the free-spirited Kim. Kim is a strange young man of endearing naiveté who works on the chain ferry that crosses the Avon or, as Higginson describes it, the "dark river running around the theatres". Dark - or fathomless - it certainly seems, if you've ever been to Stratford and gone on one of the boat trips that take you up the river and back.
This seemingly simple story of the complexity of love-relationships will interest those familiar to the quaint town which is the birthplace of William Shakespeare.
The book is written from Tom's point of view and if he isn't present at any situation, he cheerfully offers his view of what was said or done. A successful director requires skills to talk the "language" of each individual actor of his cast in order to pull out the sub-text of the script and achieve the required performance. In this vein, Higginson shows his capacity to let his readers feel and experience the emotions his characters are going through. Forensically dissecting the energies needed for love, jealousy, confusion and fear of death, the reader can identify with his characters' times of anguish, jubilation, sexual passion or tenderness.
What could very well become a sentimental love story is steered into a higher plane by Higginson's ironic turn of phrase and fresh use of expressions. His accurate description of the Stratford experience transports you there and all his characters are believable. I am looking forward to seeing his play, The Girl in the Yellow Dress directed by Malcolm Purkey, at the forthcoming National Arts Festival in Grahamstown.
Last Summer is dedicated to the legendary Barney Simon and carries positive response from theatre personalities such as John Kani, Malcolm Purkey and Janet Suzman as well as respected writer Leon de Kock. It is published by Picador Africa - ISBN: 9781770101814
For interest's sake, visit the RSC's website at http://www.rsc.org.uk for an informative update on the revival of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre due for completion in 2010.
© Caroline Smart
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