Review: Kim Cattrall and Seth Numrich in Sweet Bird of Youth at the Old Vic
I like you. You are a nice monster."
Tennesee Williams' 1959 play Sweet Bird of Youth is certainly a play of monsters. The playwright wrote in the forward that humans are all savages at heart just "observing a few amenities of civilized behaviour" and that savagery is probably best reflected in the small southern town sensibilities where the central character of Chance Wayne (Seth Numrich) comes from.
However the monster of the quote is not one of the thugs or racists in St Cloud who mete out their own brutal justice but the faded Hollywood actress, Alexandra Del Largo (Kim Cattrall), who has fled a disastrously received come-back movie and is travelling with Chance under the pseudonym Princess Kosmonopolis.
Alexandra is a monster born out of having fame and success plucked from her by an industry obsessed with youth. Drink and drug addled, prone to panic attacks the young Chance has wheedled his way into her employ as a companion and driver. The monster in Chance is one of promise unfulfilled. He seeks fame and fortune but his motives are to win back his first love Heavenly Finley (Louise Dylan) the daughter of rich man, hence his return with Alexandra to St Cloud.
In a way it is a depressing reminder that the monstrous habit of human aging is no less a crime in society's eyes now as it was back in the 1950's. Had the play been set today Alexandra no doubt would be running away to get botox and face lifts and Chance probably would have been her personal trainer.
Equally the intoxicating lure of fame has only become heightened with the passing decades. In Sweet Bird of Youth, Chance wants Alexandra to use her connections to put on a talent competition and have him win - did Tennessee Williams foresee reality TV?
Together the two make very interesting character studies. Chance is a charmer and a gigolo and experienced as such but Alexandra for all her hysterics and melodrama has the gnarled wisdom of age. Both seek out inebriation as a means of masking reality and both ultimately choose different paths - and in that alone there are at least a couple of Eng Lit student essays.
Key to the success of this play are the central performances. Kim Cattrall displays little of the sexy, sassy confidence of Samantha of Sex In The City or Amanda in Private Lives, instead we see a vulnerability and an ugly neediness.
Seth Numrich is a revelation. It's the first thing I've seen him in and proves that he is far more than a pretty poster boy but also an accomplished stage actor, demonstrating great depth of emotion, so much so that Chance's agony, despair and panic was almost palpable. He's certainly someone I hope to see back on the London stage again soon.
Plaudits too have to go to the production design - hotel bedroom cleverly transforming to southern colonial homestead and then hotel bar and back to hotel bedroom. Although the music occasionally felt a little intrusive to the scene the slowly approaching thunder storm in the second half helped build the tension of what was going on on stage.
Really, really glad I decided to go and see this - catch it while you can it finishes this Saturday (Aug 31). Can we have some more Tennessee Williams in theatreland please?
Now it would be easy to use the Kevin Spacey fall-back on this one but I thought I'd do a bit of work and find a connection with the stars Kim Cattrall and Seth Numrich. So Kim was easiest, she was in Private Lives with Lisa Dillon who was in Design for Living with Andrew Scott who was in Cock with Mr W.
Seth took a bit more work but I got one: He was in Private Romeo with Hale Applebaum who was in Smash with Jack Davenport, who was in the Talented Mr Ripley with Jude Law who was directed by Michael Grandage in Hamlet and Michael Grandage directed Mr W in Peter and Alice. Impressed?