“A lot of folks say they like what I did but they don’t like the way I did it”
There’s much to admire about the Old Vic’s lavish production of Tennessee Williams’ Sweet Bird of Youth, but ultimately I found little to really love as its three hours meander their way through its uneventful beginnings to a far-from-revelatory conclusion. Its big selling point is the return of Kim Cattrall to our stage, playing fading Hollywood star Alexandra Del Lago who is in hiding in a Florida hotel after a disastrous movie premiere which was designed to be a grand comeback. Helping her over her trauma is a handsome gigolo named Chance who fancies himself as an actor but finding himself in his hometown, has to deal with the demons of his past.
The play feels scuppered from the start by the lengthy two-hander which dominates the opening. Cattrall is excellent, if a little too luminous to really convince as a past-it star, as Del Lago rails against the movie system that has made her who she is and can yet still spit her out at the merest hint of failure. The problem lies with the character of Chance, Williams’ predilection for martyrish tendencies not backed up with anywhere near enough depth of character to make us care for someone intended to be a tragic hero. Seth Numrich does well in layering in as much nuance as he can but never really convinces as far as the chemistry between the pair goes, a near-fatal mis-step for me and one from which the play never recovered.
Marianne Elliott has more success in the central section which deals with Chance’s attempts at fixing the mistakes of his past, returning to the girl of his dreams despite the men of the town, led by her brutish father, threatening to kill him should he ever return. These subsidiary characters crackle with life – Owen Roe’s angry father, Lucy Robinson as his fierce mistress and Charles Aitken as his son perfectly convey the hypocrisy of Southern manners, and there’s good work from Michael Begley and Bríd Brennan. A thunderous thunderstorm makes for a striking set-piece but the way in which credulity is stretched in order to reach a barely-earned reprieve for Del Lago feels like a cheat of an ending and having cared so little for these characters from the beginning, I was more than ready to just get out. Disappointing.