Jun 12

Review: Sweet Bird of Youth, Chichester Festival Theatre

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Sweet Bird of Youth

Chichester Festival Theatre

Until 24 June

Box Office: 01243 781312 www.cft.org.uk

Photo credit: Johan Persson

With the run-up to General Election a veritable carnival of hypocrisy, self-interest, arrogance and rampaging egos, the day after the event itself wasn’t the ideal time to digest more of the same. Alas, in Tennessee Williams’s 1959 play there is little relief from such monstrous conduct.

Fearing derision and rejection after the premiere of her latest film, aging Hollywood movie star Alexandra Del Largo (Marcia Gay Harden) has bolted and is holed up in a hotel in St Cloud on the Gulf Coast of Mexico with Chance Wayne (Brian J. Smith), a gigolo and wannabe actor who skipped the town a few years previously. While the actress hides behind an alias and dulls her demons with alcohol, narcotics and sex, Chance is determined to be reunited with Heavenly, his teenage sweetheart. Unaware that before leaving St Cloud he infected his girl with a STD that necessitated a hysterectomy, he has no idea that Heavenly’s father and brother are resolute: should Chance ever show his face in the neighbourhood again he will pay for his crime.

The first act, almost entirely a two-hander set in a hotel bedroom, offers superb performances from Harden and Smith. Convincing and compelling, on the Festival Theatre’s thrust stage, however, some of the intensity and intimacy is lost.

Elsewhere the performances are strong, especially Richard Cordery as Boss Finley, a bully with double standards and an unshakable belief in the American Dream. Victoria Berwick as Heavenly Finley is also excellent. Vulnerable, compliant but filled with a rage, when she sobs silent, despairing tears, her grief and anger is sorely palpable.

Easy on the eye, Anthony Ward’s set is stunning; clever, evocative and stylish, it is also beautifully complemented by Mark Henderson’s lighting.

The ruthless marching of time is one of the play’s key themes. In Jonathan Kent’s undeniably ‘classy bird’ there remains a niggling sense that the pace needs to be stepped up.