Review: Sweet Bird of Youth, Old Vic

“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.

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Review: La Turista: Café Duende, Morito Tapas Bar

“I have seen the blood of Spain”

“Ni en la vida ni en la guerra se puede triunfar sin fe.” The 1937 words of the Spanish Republican Prime Minister Juan Negrín are draped across the window of Morito Tapas Bar to beckon us into the highly evocative world of La Turista:Café Duende, a piece of dinner theatre that seeks to give a taste not only of some excellent Iberian cuisine but also of life during the Spanish Civil War. The quote translates roughly as “not in life nor war can one succeed without faith” and through Jamie Harper’s intricately pieced-together script, we bear witness to the different kinds of faith that saw people through the most difficult of times.

Hobo Theatre’s aim is to produce theatre in unconventional locations and the crowded intimacy of one of Exmouth Market’s most highly rated eateries certainly fits that bill. The easy conviviality of the space, combined with the realities of informal dining, creates a decidedly non-theatrical environment, an astute choice which fits the suggestively dark moods of La Turista perfectly. Split into four acts, interspersed with three courses of dinner, the show is less concerned with a theatrical narrative than evoking the mysterious spirit of duende, of deep feeling, of an almost spiritual connection with art.

Harper – whose previous work includes Beyond the Pale, one of the better examples of promenading interactive theatre in recent years – has achieved this by pulling together a chorus of seven nameless individuals, known only by their trades – the writer, the poet, the photographer and so on – and putting into their mouths, the words, thoughts and deeds of the artistic and creative minds that gathered in Spain at the time. So hints of the prose of Hemingway, the poems of Lorca, the paintings of Miró swirl around the restaurant, roughly divided thematically but always focused on deep currents of emotion and matched perfectly by heart-achingly beautiful music and songs, led from Andre Ionescu’s guitar.

And Sam Clark and Marianna Leivaditaki’s food is just sensational: the freshness of the beetroot borani, the depth of flavour in the deliciously tender rabbit stew, even the smoked almonds on the table as you arrive are a thing of wonder. The choice to chase the ephemeral quality of the duende means that those looking for something more substantial on the theatrical side may come away a little disappointed and it is true, it is the wonderfully intense intimacy of the performers rather than the stories they are telling that lingers most in the mind. But that shouldn’t detract from the quality of what is achieved here and it certainly all adds up to the kind of remarkable evening of entertainment to which it is well worth treating oneself.    
Booking until 31st March, Sundays only
Originally written for The Public Reviews