Ok, I have two confessions to make. Number one: I love Tennessee Williams. I studied his play A Streetcar Named Desire and absolutely fell in love with his writing style. He’s so open and unafraid of controversy and Streetcar was so raw and powerful I didn’t hesitate to book Sweet Bird of Youth when I heard about it. Confession number two: I absolutely adore Kim Cattrall. Sex and the City is my guilty pleasure and her character is far and away my favourite. She is such a strong, confident woman and I admire her so much. Samantha’s cancer storyline reduced me to tears on so many occasions – the sheer dignity and grace she showed when shaving her own head or dealing with the side effects of cancer was enough to take my breath away. So when I heard that she would play the female lead, Alexandra Del Lago, alongside Seth Numrich as Chance Wayne, I knew I had to go and see it. The synopsis of the play was equally compelling. (Sourced from http://www.oldvictheatre.com/sweet-bird-of-youth/)
“Fading Hollywood legend Alexandra Del Lago (Cattrall) flees the disastrous premiere of her comeback film. Travelling incognito, she seeks refuge in drink, drugs and the arms of Chance Wayne (Numrich), an idealistic young dreamer turned gigolo. A trip to Chance’s hometown in a bid to win back his childhood sweetheart sees their relationship of convenience unravel in Tennessee Williams’ vivid and haunting portrait of the destruction of dreams.”
The play was being performed at the Old Vic Theatre, somewhere I’d never been before. It was a gorgeous sunny day and, despite hobbling around on a crutch thanks to my temperamental right knee/hip, I loved walking around the surrounding area and browsing through various independent shops filled with all kinds of trinkets. I even bought a new dream catcher (I am so fussy about them, they have to be perfect. I have 10 so far, mostly from abroad).
The theatre itself was beautiful, a really old fashioned building with pictures on the walls of previous actors and actresses who had performed there, including Richard Burton, Angela Lansbury and Laurence Olivier. We would be sitting in the dress circle which had a very bizarre pricing system – my seat, D25, was “behind a slim pillar” and cost £28.00. My Mum’s seat, D26, also “behind a slim pillar” cost £16.00. Out of curiosity I sat in both seats to check the view of the stage – it was almost exactly the same. How strange.
As the lights dimmed and the show started I was immediately hooked. Seth Numrich, who played the male lead Chance Wayne, was absolutely beautiful, there’s no other word for it. There was no dialogue, just Chance walking across the set, a hotel room, getting dressed. Kim Cattrall was lying on the large double bed at the back of the stage, unmoving. Even in this silent opening you really got a sense of Chance’s character – he was strong, confident and so so handsome. When Cattrall’s character Miss Del Lago finally emerged I was so excited to see her perform. There was not one trace of Samantha in her, she was self-conscious and insecure, but she still had an air of refinement and dignity about her.
The entire first act of the play was performed in two scenes with set changes that were perfectly choreographed and had such fluidity to it that it didn’t seem at all out of place – each transition was flawless and beautifully executed.
When Heavenly Finley, Chance’s childhood sweetheart (played by Louise Dylan) was introduced, she also had no dialogue – she simply walked from the back of the stage to the front, then down the stairs at the front of the stage and into the audience, walking down the aisle before disappearing from view. This was very haunting and the similarities between Heavenly and Ophelia from Hamlet immediately stuck me. Both had an eerie calm about them, brought about by a sense of betrayal or abandonment. It really was breathtaking to watch. Throughout the whole play I was completely mesmerised, the progression of the play and the slow decline of Chance’s fortunes were played out perfectly and had me literally on the edge of my seat. Towards the end a thunderstorm began, with thunder echoing around the theatre as the final act began. As the scene got more and more intense the thunder became louder and louder until a final flash of lightning, which made me jump clean out of my seat, highlighted three men climbing through the window into Chance’s room, all in shadow. I wanted to scream at Chance to run, to get out of there, but he tilted his chin slightly as if he acknowledged his fate and, as the men closed in, the lights went down and the play ended. I didn’t even notice that I had tears streaming down my face until my Mum wiped them away for me.
Another beautiful twist in the play was this: (warning: spoilers) throughout the play the running theme is that Alexandra Del Lago attempted to revive her career with a comeback film, and then ran away from the premiere convinced that she was a complete failure and had become a laughing stock. That’s why she accompanied Chance Wayne to his hometown – she wanted to run away. The twist was, the film was an unrivalled success and Alexandra was now the most in demand actress in the business. Throughout the play Alexandra had clung to Chance for her own self-validation, constantly seeking reassurance and affection whilst hiding herself away from the world. However as soon as she received the phone call that she had been a success, it was like someone had flipped a switch. She held her head high and showed a renewed sense of self-confidence and the way her success was mirrored by Chance’s downfall was just perfect and completely cemented my love for Tennessee Williams.
Because we’d been to see a matinee there was little to no chance that I’d actually meet Kim Cattrall but I had to try, so we dutifully headed to the stage door, only for it to be confirmed that she rarely came out in-between shows. Although I was slightly disappointed, I knew I was still incredibly lucky to have witnessed such a beautiful piece of theatre.