Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Sweet Bird of Youth

Old Vic theatre
2 July 2013

The trailer.

This theatrical witches brew cannot fail to make an impact, despite some low-wattage leads.

The bird of the title is not looks or charm or even hope, though this is what Chance fears he has lost, but rather imaginative power, which must be transfigured with maturity or we lose the vital sparks within us. Alexandra, while much older, retains her vitality, as established in the final scenes, whereas Chance has lost his, and so waits for the catastrophe, castration being a fairly obvious euphemism for his loss.

As often with Williams, the drama is weakened by a lack of inwardness: the characters are neither articulate nor interestingly inarticulate, so that the audience is no wider than the characters about their predicament.

His detailed stage directions, attempting to convey his characters' inner thoughts, are themselves a sign of insecurity, indicating similar frustrations to those of Henry James when he writing for the stage. If this seems crazy given Williams' obvious theatrical strengths, I think it does suggest that he feared something was missing from his characters, and that needed to be provided by the actors.

Thankfully the author's powerful theatrical quality, and in particular his very distinctive style, can make us overlook these weaknesses while in the theatre.

His works seem indestructible, and this one too. Marianne Elliott's production sensibly centres the action on Chance, and likewise the adaptation appears to remove some of Alexandra's lines. This also allows the repulsive political backdrop to come through forcefully, and Boss Finley's terrible speech becomes something of a dark highlight here.

It is hard for a Boss Finley not to steal the show, but it doesn't happen here. Owen Roe presents a quietly menacing figure that is all the more effective for being restrained.

Kim Cattral is the star name in the cast, but her Alexandra is a disappointment, an unsubtle portrayal. Seth Numrich's Chance is the central character, but although he looks good, and clearly understand the role, its charisma seems beyond him. The result is that his character is unlikeable, and while some of that risk is intrinsic to the part, we are told repeatedly that everyone once loved him.

These are small criticisms. The drama is effective, and if it doesn't bear deep reflection afterwards, these are the faults of the writer, not the creative team.

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