Culture: Theatre

Kim Cattrall Goes Cougar in Sweet Bird of Youth

Sweet Bird Of Youth

Sex and the City’s Kim Cattrall shines as a fading Hollywood star in Tennessee Williams’ Sweet Bird of Youth, says Fiona Keating.

Tennessee Williams was writing about cougars even before the term was invented. In Sweet Bird of Youth, he writes with great skill and poignancy about the relationship between an ageing actress and a young gigolo.

All eyes were upon Kim Cattrall who plays the fading Hollywood star Alexandra Del Lago. The Sex and the City star’s comic timing is excellent and she gives great depth and feeling to the role.

But the only problem with having such a big star on the stage is thinking “Oh, my god, it’s Samantha from Sex and the City!” Cattrall looks in fabulous shape, and whatever the 56-year-old English-Canadian actress is doing, it’s definitely shaving decades off her age.

It’s a brave role for Cattrall to take on, as her chosen profession is all about youth, where wrinkles and sagging flesh are taboo.

As Cattrall revealed in a Guardian interview: “ “I don’t have a relationship with Hollywood now,” she says. “You can’t if you’re over 40.”

In Sweet Bird of Youth, Cattrall shows vulnerability which turns very quickly into bravado. This is one tough old broad who is not above blackmailing a young man into having sex with her. Chance Wayne, the ne’er do well boy, is played by Seth Numrich. He has returned to his hometown of St Cloud in Florida to win back his angelic childhood sweetheart, aptly named Heavenly Finley.

Numrich is convincing as the beautiful gigolo, who looks like a Calvin Klein model, especially when stripped down to his underpants. He might look an innocent, but he has a nasty streak and tries to blackmail Del Lago with an incriminating recording he made of her, when she’s completely inebriated and bragging about her stash of drugs.

Wayne used to be “the best-looking boy in town”, but has returned back home at the grand old age of 29, his youthful dreams turned to dust.

He comes back a meaner soul, but he is a babe in the woods when it comes to the hard as nails school and meets his match in the fading star. For Alexandra Del Lago has survived the sharks of the Hollywood film industry and merely laughs at his demands..

Director Marianne Elliott excels in bringing out this alternative love story, with Cattrall and Numrich well matched as the lovers. Del Lago and Wayne veer from mutual contempt to indifference before settling into a grudging mutual respect.

The stage setting at the Old Vic is magnificent, and hard as it is to bring the Deep South to Waterloo, SE1, the set design of a colonial-style hotel, with wafting curtains almost makes us believe we are in the stultifying heat of 1950s Florida.

Tennessee Williams had his personal demons – loneliness, regrets, self-hatred, a fear of time running out. He writes about these subjects so well in Sweet Bird of Youth, with Kim Cattrall in particular bringing humour and pathos to the role, making ageing a much less scary prospect.

Sweet Bird of Youth is on at the Old Vic until 31 August 2013.

Words: Fiona Keating


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