Theatre review: Sex and the drug-addled screen idol - Kim Cattrall excels in Sweet Bird of Youth

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Old Vic, London

Kim Cattrall seems to have cornered the market in raddled, imperiously camp divas. After her Cleopatra at Chichester, she settles, as to manner born, into the role of Alexandra Del Lago, the faded screen icon who is on the run from a failed comeback in 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. 

Her memory addled by booze and drugs, our heroine peers with some curiosity through her smashed spectacles at the washboard-flat stomach and silky torso of Seth Numrich's Chance Wayne, the local golden boy-turned-gigolo with whom she appears to have holed up in this Gulf Coast hotel.  “I don't mind mind waking up in an intimate situation, but I like to see who it's with...”  

Cattrall's Del Lago oscillates superbly between hard-bitten, grande dame put-downs, hyper-ventilating panic and a certain tender fellow-feeling for this twenty-nine year old failure who is making his own doomed attempt at a comeback in his home town. 

Chance is determined to cart off Heavenly, his childhood sweetheart, in defiance of her white supremacist politico father Boss Finley (a rivetingly vile, apoplectically red-faced Owen Roe). It's a rescue bid that would need balls and, if Boss and his henchmen have their way, Chance will be lucky to leave St Cloud with either of his. 

At first I thought that rising Broadway star, Numrich, looked too young, sweet-faced and in the peak of condition to portray a man struggling with the melancholy of irreversibly missed opportunities. But the actor rises to the occasion stunningly in the second half as his Chance, wired and reeling on drink and pills, spirals into an black, evermore reckless spree of antagonising the community in the hotel bar. 

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 and she even uses this as a means of forging a bridge between the public and the private. 

The unbearably loud television transmission of the demagogic racist rally offstage, the lurid lightning flashes it seems to trigger and the brutal centre-stage beating up of the heckler: all this brings home both the chilling political reality and at the same time filters it through the tormented subjectivity of the man whose tragic self-disgust, essential isolation and suicidal passivity Numrich so affectingly and stealthily delineates.  Strongly recommended.

To August 31; 0844  871 7628

Arts and Entertainment
Loading individual letters on to an original Heidelberg printing press
Arts and Entertainment
Shades of glory: Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend

Glastonbury Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend will perform with Paul Weller as their warm-up act

Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

    'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

    In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
    VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

    How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

    Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
    They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

    Typefaces still matter in the digital age

    A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
    Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

    'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

    New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
    The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

    Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

    Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

    Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
    Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

    Crisp sales are in decline

    As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
    Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

    Ronald McDonald the muse

    A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
    13 best picnic blankets

    13 best picnic blankets

    Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
    Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

    Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

    Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
    Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

    Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

    Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'