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A CurtainUp London London Review
Sweet Bird of Youth

"I don't mind waking up in an intimate situation but I'd like to see who it is with." — Princess
Sweet Bird of Youth
Kim Cattrall as Alexandra del Lago and Seth Numrich as Chance Wayne (Photo: Manuel Harlan)
Seeing a Tennessee Williams' play generates an excitement and anticipation of great drama. Sweet Bird of Youth is a melodrama set in the Deep South, featuring Kim Cattrall as an aging Hollywood film star Alexandra del Lago, or Princess Kosmonopolis as she calls herself while travelling anonymously, and her gigolo lover interestingly called Chance Wayne (rising Broadway star, Seth Numrich).

She is suffering a loss of confidence faced with advancing age and has fled from the premiere of her latest movie, dreading its poor reception and is now holed up in a hotel on drink and drugs. He is trying to grasp at the straws of fame by being attached to her celebrity. Both are on the wrong side of youth.

Chance is returning to St Cloud where, as the most handsome young man in the town and working as a waiter, he once fell in love with Heavenly Finley (Louise Dylan) the beautiful daughter of a rich man and right wing politician, Boss Finley (Owen Roe). Chance is unaware of the hellish time he bequeathed to Heavenly when he left town, his relationship with Heavenly having been broken up by her controlling father.

The first scene sees Miss Cattrall under the covers of the double bed in the spacious hotel room with its beautiful columned pillars and soft lighting from the drawn curtains. When she does wake up and sees the strapping pecs of the young man she is with, she says, "I may have done better but God knows I've done worse!" There is wit when Chance tells her he was the best looking guy in town, "How large is this town?" she asks.

Marianne Elliott is directing and as dramaturg, young British playwright, James Graham has edited this version from the many versions that Tennessee Williams worked on over 15 years, from a sketch in 1948, a one act play in 1952 to the Broadway premiere in 1959. Writing in the programme, Graham says, "A modern DVD has nothing on Sweet Bird of Youth in terms of alternative endings, deleted scenes and possible versions. In a variety of published and produced texts, sometimes the lovers, meet, sometimes they don't. Sometimes it ends with the characters alive, other times dead. There are happy and sad versions in different degrees. Some more violent, some less. Whole acts that had been cut from the first performance are resurrected in later publications as the creator changed his mind."

The first scene is overly long and feels so drawn out I would quite happily have crawled into that huge double bed and paid my sleep debt. But things liven up when we enter bright sunlight and glimpse the beautiful figure of Heavenly and meet her unscrupulous and racist politician father. When the scene switches to the downstairs of the hotel in the cocktail bar of the Royal Palms Hotel, lit with fairy lights, we meet Miss Lucy (Lucy Robinson) Finley's fancy woman and the play gets livelier. The electrical storm is brilliantly staged with thunder rolling around and we can feel the oppressive humidity.

The final scene takes us back to the bedroom but as this is melodrama and it is ok to reach for the Kleenex. Kim Cattrall conveys the angst of the aging actress hampered by a ridiculous ginger wig and an equally unlikely denouement. The wig is presumably to make the gorgeous Miss Cattrall look past her best.

Seth Numrich's shallow but beautiful young man has little of interest other than his beauty but that is down to the playwright not the promising young actor. Owen Roe dominates as the brutal Southern patriarch and there are good cameos from the supporting cast including Michael Begley as the brave Heckler.

Rae Smith's sets are beautiful enhanced by Bruno Poet's mood lighting but even the directorial skill of Marianne Elliott (Warhorse, Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time) cannot lift the disappointment of a play by Tennessee Williams which lacks bittersweet reality.

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Sweet Bird of Youth
Written by Tennessee Williams
Directed by Marianne Elliott

Starring: Kim Cattrall, Seth Numrich, Owen Rae
With: Charles Aitken, Michael Begley, Daniel Betts, Brid Brennan, Ruari Cannon, Emily De Cosimo, Louise Dylan, Kurt Kansley, Sean McConaghy, Katie Meekison, Lucy Robinson, Violet Rider, Ryan Saunders, Alistair Scott, Anthony Taylor, Joe Townley, John Trindle, David Webber
Design: Rae Smith
Lighting: Bruno Poet
Dramaturg: James Graham
Music and Sound: Dan Jones
Running time: Three hours with an interval
Box Office: 0844 871 7628
Booking to 31st August 2013
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 17th June 2013 performance at the Old Vic, Waterloo Road, London SE1 8NB(Rail/Tube: Waterloo)

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