Two features of this production made me purchase tickets.
The first was that it’s a Tennessee Williams play and, thanks to my penchant for all things Southern, I was instantly drawn. The second was that the production features Kim Cattrall, an actress who I admire a great deal, both on and off the screen and stage. Add the intriguing relative newcomer Seth Numrich, set it in the beautiful Old Vic theatre and I was sold.
Sweet Bird of Youth tells the story of Chance Wayne, portrayed with nonchalant ease by Numrich, who returns to his home town in Florida with middle-aged actress Alexandra del Lago, who travels under the name Princess Kosmonopolis to ensure privacy. Wayne hopes to use del Lago’s name and contacts to advance his fledgling acting career and returns to his home town in an attempt to win back his childhood sweetheart Heavenly Finley.
…they make a toxic couple from the opening scene of the play…
Both central characters are critically flawed – Wayne is disillusioned with his talent and, thus, his future, whilst del Lago is obsessed with the idea that she has lost her youth and career at once, thus resigns herself to the life of a hermit. Together, they make a toxic couple from the opening scene of the play, which sees them walk around in their underwear, smoke cigarettes and hashish whilst downing vodka as hurriedly and naturally as I consume my morning coffee.
Everyone loves a flawed character and especially ones as entrancing and attractive as Cattrall and Numrich. Both command the stage with equal vivacity and convincing self-assurance, highlighting the humorous and razor-sharp dialogue by matching it with an equally seducing atmosphere on stage. Having said that, the play wasn’t all about these two brilliant leads; everyone else on stage embodied their characters perfectly, creating a cast that was incredibly dynamic and engaging. The tragic undertones of the play shone through ever brighter as we neared the end, with machismo violence and bullish determination becoming the key themes as the evening drew to a close.
…a striking performance on an individual and collective level…
What was special about this production is that the performances were not only individually brilliant, but they really brought to life words written down by someone else in a different country over fifty years ago. This is, of course, the very essence of a play, but it’s difficult to achieve such a striking performance on an individual and collective level, whilst really performing the lines, rather than just saying them. The themes explored in the play – the destructive effects of fame; ruthless manipulation; Southern masculinity and pride – are universal and ones which are portrayed in a striking and touching new light. A true gem of the South Bank, the Old Vic has done it again with a beautiful production matched with stunning performances.