Sweet Bird of Youth at the Old Vic Theatre, London (01/02/13)

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Sweet Bird of Youth at the Old Vic Theatre, London.

Sweet Bird of Youth, one of Tenessee Williams’ lesser known masterpieces, graces the London stage at the Old Vic Theatre.

In an age where the beauty and the youth of others are regarded with such high importance, Tennessee Williams’ ‘Sweet Bird of Youth’ strikes a powerful and moving chord.  It is set in the Deep South just before the civil rights movement came into full force. An ageing movie star retreats to a secluded, small town with her toy boy (a gigolo and drifter) aiming to forget their past, failing careers and to try and recapture the youth that has been supposedly robbed from both of them.

Kim Cattrall dazzles as ‘The Princess Kosmonopolis’ a diva extraordinaire that proves every part of the star that she undoubtedly is. A ‘washed-up’ movie star, the Princess goes through many different stages of eccentric, to plain barmy and from helpless to powerful seamlessly. Her co-star, an American import Seth Numrich is also every part his character, a young disappointed dreamer seeking to find and fulfil his dreams no matter the cost to himself or to those he loves. The rest of the cast are the best tools to communicate Williams’ powerful message throughout the production.

Almost in two parts, the play mainly explores two flawed relationships; the movie star and her gigolo, and the ageing, power hungry senator and his daughter. With more detail and attention being given to the former, the other main relationship is not explored in that much detail and regrettably not enough information reaches the audience about the strained relationship between the daughter (with her poetically apt and heavily symbolised name of  ‘Heavenly’) and her supremacist father with dictator-ish tendencies. A strong character in many ways, she quickly fades to the backdrop as Williams chooses to explore the other main characters and significantly silences her for trying to disobey her father.  Criticised for being disjointed and too repetitive, this play was originally written as a one act, two hander. But Williams slowly expanded it rewriting it many times, especially the ending. For Williams, there seemingly was never a definitive version that he was ever completely happy with (despite a motion picture version with the late, great Liz Taylor being made in 1968). It explores the themes of age, innocence (or rather the loss of it), unfulfilled dreams, violence and the battle between love and hate and good versus evil. These themes are ones that are well explored in much of Williams’ work, and Sweet Bird of Youth has been criticised for being uninventive and repetitive. But Williams wrote this work in the latter stages of his lengthy career, where ageing was inevitable and the slowing of time, impossible.

The ‘enemy of time’ was to be the works’ title originally, but the actual title is much more buoyant and hopeful whether the play reflects this or not is another matter but the title does express some of Williams’ message for me, despite being misconstrued by other critics of this work.

The production has already had phenomenal critical reviews, but many others have strongly criticised the actual text more than the performers. But I believe that neither the writer nor the performers deserve any such criticism, as it was a phenomenal production and work that rendered this sometimes unsympathetic and cold writer speechless.

The run ends on the 31st August, for me, it is a must see of the summer.

10/10

Sweet Bird of Youth is playing at The Old Vic Theatre until 31st August and tickets are still available here. £10 day tickets for under 25s are available when you phone the box office on the day. Phone early to avoid disappointment.

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