Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Sweet Bird of Youth at The Old Vic.

Ever since I was a little girl, I've had a bit of a girl crush on Kim Cattrall. I wore out my old VHS copy of Mannequin, in fact. It wasn't until I was much older that I discovered some of her other films, the original (and best) Police Academy, Big Trouble in Little China, Porky's, etc. Then of course, there was Sex and the City. Kim's role as Samantha Jones has become so iconic that it's pretty much eclipsed every other part she's ever played. Although to me she will always be Emmy as much as Samantha. (Emantha? Y/N?)

Since SATC ended, I haven't seen much of Kim. That's not to say she hasn't done much, IMDb reliably informs me she's been beavering away on new projects. But I'm sure I'm not alone in thinking that treading the boards at the Old Vic ranks a little higher on her acting CV than a TV movie anyway.

The Old Vic is a truly stunning theatre that is steeped in history. The true acting greats have performed here and Kevin Spacey is the current artistic director. Basically if you come to the Old Vic, you expect a classy production, and as classy acting shiz goes, Tennessee Williams plays are right up there. Look how far Miss. Honeywell has come!

Sweet Bird of Youth is the tale of Chance Wayne, a drifter/gigolo who returns to his hometown in the company of Alexandra Del Lago, an aging movie star who has been trying to resurrect her career. Chance is hoping to use his association with Alexandra to secure himself a career in the movies, the love of the girl he left behind and the approval of her family who forced him out of town in the first place. Alexandra is hoping to hide out in their hotel room until the furore surrounding her comeback picture (which she believes is a failure) has faded. This being a Tennessee Williams play however, you know that things aren't going to be that straightforward.

Kim Cattrall is the perfect choice to play Alexandra Del Lago. In many ways she is at a similar point in her career since SATC came to an end and she tries to redefine herself as an older, possibly more respected, performer. She brings just the right amount of self-involved melodramatics to Alexandra, and her comedic timing is second to none. There are moments of such heartfelt fragility in her portrayal that I actually had tears in my eyes more than once. Still, there are flashes of Samantha in Alexandra. When she wakes up to find Chance in a state of undress in her hotel room, she inspects him up close with her glasses on so she can see in detail what he looks like. "Well, I may have done better," she declares, "but God knows I've done worse."

Seth Numrich as Chance is an impressive talent. How I've never heard of him before, I don't know, but I certainly expect to hear more from him in the future. This being the Old Vic, the staging is magnificent and the entire supporting cast is superb, but it's naturally Kim who steals the show. I found her depiction of Alexandra alarmingly reminiscent of Judy Garland's final years. Indeed, the character is altogether evocative of Garland, from the huge success she enjoyed in her youth to her struggles with ill-health, drink, alcohol and men, and her attempt to carve out a new place for herself in Hollywood as an older actress. Kim's Alexandra even looks eerily similar to Judy in her later years. Sadly for Judy her youthful success, (her sweet bird of youth, if you will) ultimately led her down a path of destruction. This is something that is mirrored in both Alexandra and Chance, who has already lost both his innocence and his childhood sweetheart.

Spot the difference: Kim as Alexandra, and Judy Garland.
In spite of it's somewhat bleak narrative, Sweet Bird of Youth has a surprising amount of humour, and this particular production is an absolute joy; from the beautifully lit scenes and ingenious set changes, to the fantastic cast and, of course, Ms. Cattrall. If you can't get to the Old Vic to see it for yourself, then check out the 1962 film version starring Paul Newman as Chance and Geraldine Page as Alexandra.

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