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Review Round-Up: 'Incendiary' Kim Cattrall leads Old Vic's Sweet Bird of Youth

Marianne Elliott's production of Sweet Bird of Youth, Tennessee Williams' tale of a fading Hollywood legend, opened at the Old Vic last night (12 June 2013). Starring Kim Cattrall and Seth Numrich, it runs until 31 August

Kim Cattrall and Seth Numrich
© Manuel Harlan
Michael Coveney

It's a back-handed compliment, really, but Kim Cattrall errs on the side of complexity and good taste in playing one of Tennessee Williams' scariest sacred monsters… Revivals by Harold Pinter and Richard Eyre have long since established this as one of the playwright's greatest pieces; it's certainly one of his rawest, roughest and most dramatically shocking… Finley himself is played with an engaging, dyspeptic brio by Irish actor Owen Roe… Seth Numrich, who goes through the motions but acts like a door post. There's an extremely weird performance by Michael Begley as the Heckler, and a nicely understated one by Brid Brennan as Aunt Nonnie. What's missing is the core Williams poetry of a clapped out diva expressing the downside of Chance's baseless ambition, the poignancy of failure and sadness of sexual promiscuity.

Michael Billington

Everything that art can do to boost this revival of Tennessee Williams's 1959 play has been done. Marianne Elliott's production is first-rate. The cast, led by Kim Cattrall, is as good as any you'll find in a national company. Yet nothing can persuade me that the play is anything more than overheated melodrama all too rarely alleviated by Williams's instinct for comedy… Seth Numrich does all he can with Chance… Williams is better with the subsidiary characters who are vigorously played… Elliott also directs with her customary attention to detail… Rae Smith's pillared set meanwhile conveys the pseudo-Palladian grandeur of the American South. But when all is said and done a vast amount of skill has been expended on a play in which the great Williams seems to be writing from memory.

Charles Spencer
Daily Telegraph

…I suppose some might accuse Tennessee Williams' Sweet Bird of Youth of being an overheated and, at times, hysterical melodrama, but boy does it pack a punch in Marianne Elliott's superb staging… Human castration, venereal disease, drug abuse and humdinger hangovers are among the ingredients here and there isn't a moment when either the play or the production pulls its punches. What is remarkable still is that the evening is often wonderfully funny too… Kim Cattrall… is incendiary form here… There is equally fine work from the hunky American work Seth Numrich… There is cracking support too with an especially good turn from Owen Roe… and a deeply poignant performance from Louise DillonSweet Bird of Youth certainly isn't a play for the faint-hearted but boy does it deliver the theatrical goods.

Paul Taylor

…this powerful revival by Marianne Elliott of Tennessee Williams's mordantly funny and deeply troubled meditation on the desperate dismay of ageing and the iniquities of racial bigotry… Cattrall's Del Lago oscillates superbly between hard-bitten, grande dame put-downs, hyper-ventilating panic and a certain tender fellow-feeling... At first I thought that rising Broadway star, Numrich, looked too young, sweet-faced and in the peak of condition… But the actor rises to the occasion stunningly in the second half… Using a version by James Graham that seeks to pool the strengths found in Williams's various drafts, Elliott imaginatively exploits the fact that the piece is generally just inches away from toppling into hokey Gothic melodrama… Strongly recommended.

Dominic Maxwell
The Times

This is the fourth time Kim Cattrall has played the London stage, but I've never seen her give a performance as rich and bold as this before. Then again, she's never had material like this… Cattrall avoids the danger of overplaying, joins her character's dots to make a compelling, credible picture of monstrous ego and vulnerability too… It's a wonderfully weird play, starting claustrophobic, losing intensity as it introduces the locals… then regrouping for a devastating second half… Credit to a strong cast for that, even if some of the accents don't quite cut it. But this unruly, unforgettable play takes its unpredictable course to something that makes you feel afresh our powerlessness against time…

Henry Hitchings
Evening Standard

Kim Cattrall brings languid allure and a finely judged air of irrationality to her role… But it's Seth Numrich opposite her who is the revelation… this Minnesota native offers a lovely mix of poise and fragility… Cattrall is simply too radiant to be able to seem convincingly crumpled… The play has been edited by James Graham, who could have trimmed more from Williams's densely symbolic text. It starts out as a two-hander involving Cattrall and Numrich, and this isn't ideal, as there isn't enough chemistry between them… What's missing from Marianne Elliott's production is a driving energy. Melodramatic flashes of lightning don't add much, and in Rae Smith's design everything looks cumbrously palatial. The performances often beguile, but at just under three hours this feels like a long journey to reach a pretty obvious destination.

Quentin Letts
Daily Mail

…It's a great part but an actress needs to strip off her self-importance. Big Kim does that. The play itself veers all over the place… Miss Cattrall, labouring under the handicap of an atrocious wig, has star quality… Her stage lover, fading prettyboy Chance Wayne, is done initially with too much strutting by Seth NumrichOwen Roe's bawling, red-faced Finley is overdone by at least 100 per cent. His pretty daughter (Louise Dylan) is thrown away – no fault of Miss Dylan, that… Marianne Elliott's staging is strikingly extravagant. The sets and lighting are tops. As is usual at the Old Vic, the whole thing is showy, slick, but less profound than it thinks it is. Not a short evening, either.

Come on our WhatsOnStage Outing to Sweet Bird of Youth on 2 July and get your top-price ticket, programme and drink, all for £40. Click here to book.


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