Thursday, 4 July 2013

I heart NYC & Kim Cattrall

It should be no surprise that the prime motivator for purchasing stall tickets at the front for the Old Vic production of Sweet Bird of Youth was to see Kim Cattrall. As a fashion writer and stylist SATC was my must watch programme from the moment it aired on HBO and Channel 4 in the UK. It was Samantha in Sex and the City who enthralled, amused and shocked. It was in both the SATC movies (whatever you may think of them) that she out shone her co-stars. Whilst most women wanted to be Sarah Jessica Parker in terms of clothes, lifestyle and Mr Big, it is always Kim Cattrall as Samantha who was the scene stealer and had the best lines.

image: Old Vic photographer Jay Brooks


Of course as much as I'm meant to dislike the films, secretly I'm perfectly happy to watch them regardless of any high brow views on how dreadful they are. I love the feast of clothes, simple. But yes ok the Cary/Big story in SATC2 is utterly appalling. But doesn't Kim Cattrall look fabulous in her Wendy Brandes's Cleopatra earrings. You see it is all about New York.




However it was Kim Cattrall's performance in Channel 4' adaptation of William Boyd's Any Human Heart (2010) as Gloria Scabius which expanded the fact, in my mind, she is an actress of note. Given her acting skills it had always puzzled me why she was not cast more in films. At the opening night of Tennessee Williams Sweet Bird of Youth I grasped the full extent of why Cattrall is a great actress butnot a great Hollywood star. And despite someone trying to belittle this point, I stick to my guns given many 'leading' ladies are chosen to offset the male one and twos.

Imagine you are extremely excited to be seeing her perform on stage in London, imagine that at first she is lying in bed face down and remains so for a while. The play and the performance is led by the character Chance Wayne played by Seth Numrich. Numrich has all the attributes of a theatre actor in respect of looks, physique and training. Yet as much as wanted to like his performance it lacked an element of delivery in respect of characterisation which was required for the role. He came alive in the first part of Act II scene II in the Cocktail lounge and his demise was more expected than convincing. The physicality was exacting but there was a lack of depth and conviction to his portrayal.

Given it was the opening night I would suspect an element of nerves, adrenaline and uncertainty of the crowd hampers performance to some degree. If Numrich can combine movement with delivery and really become the character Chance Walker then his performance should improve which will improve his standing alongside the rest of the cast. Owen Rae, Charles Aitken, Brid Brennan and Lucy Robinson were exceptionally strong cast members in respect of the narrative and engaging with them as characters. My disappointment in Louise Dylan as Heavenly rests solely upon her short hair. The period, the setting and the play is not served well by a young women with short hair. Having not read the play for a number of years I'm happy to be corrected on this point but to my mind this detail was a visual mistake. Which further engendered the lack of connection with the two characters, Chance and Heavenly.

The stage set was exemplary with the exception of the top balustrades which screamed 'cheap new build' at me but this is a small insignificant matter and is more a reflection of my tendency to notice and absorb such detail. The design was outstanding in terms of use of space and creating atmosphere. It put me in mind of the wonderful hallway and staircase in Written on the Wind (1956) directed by Douglas Sirk such was it cinematic quality from my perspective in the third row in the stalls. Which must mean the lighting was magnificent, it was. It all lent well to good use of stage by the actors and the movement  never erred into the frenetic despite the demands of the narrative exuberance.

The sheer joy of the play is the era, the familiar thematic qualities of the fifties as exemplified by Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller and the end of Classical Hollywood and the outstanding Sirk who directed Rock Hudson to great affect in All That Heaven Allows and Written on the Wind. It is to the productions credit of Sweet Bird of Youth that I was transported back to my English literature lessons at a comprehensive school with memories of To Kill a Mocking Bird, Death of a Salesman and Street Car Named Desire all studied and inspiring an appetite not just for literature and plays but a love of the cinema.

And of course my true love is the cinema, hence my obsession with costume and stage setting. Aunt Nonnie and Tom Junior were attired in the best costumes. Aunt Nonnie's shoes were delectable in detail as they ran past me in the auditorium. Overall the costume choice was pretty good with the exception of Heavenly's first dress, which again I found unconvincing. In all, the production, the set, and the costumes were hitting the right notes. The temptation to be clever never arose and the success of delivering a play that authentically captured the era and issues of that era gave it a Mad Men-esque quality.  Overall the production is a safe bet if you want to see a play from a playwright who excelled at characterisation and relationship drama. It is the sort of play that could within a school lesson be a vehicle for all sorts of discussion that would lead you off curriculum and into the true opportunity of education, the art of imparting or acquiring a thirst for knowledge through any learning. Gove wouldn't like the thought of that but he'd be hard pressed not to like the Old Vic's production of Sweet Bird of Youth because it stays true to the context of the drama and setting.

Yet it was Kim Cattrall who deserves the best accolade. Her performance was incredible. Not for one moment did I think 'Samantha'. I firmly believed she was her character and was actually amazed at her ability to be secondary to another cast member. Her acting was exacting in requirements of stage presence and physicality. Her physical presence took me by surprised. Cattrall is in good shape through her hard work, I know this information from her interviews. Yet her statue is her own, her height, her depth and movement regardless of her toned body is what surprised me. She is not one of those actors who is smaller in real life and her ability to dominate (unintentionally or with ease) is probably what sets her apart from most. Her delivery and her timing were impeccable for a first night performance, only Owen Rae was her equal, yet his part in terms of characterisation was more obvious. The fact Cattrall is such a presence made me realise why she hasn't had a great Hollywood career in respect of appearing in films as leading lady. Sometimes, some actors are too good for others.

Tennessee Williams as a playwright enjoys the cascading excess of emotion and agitation and in some ways sometimes fails to edit the excess. The part of Princess Kosmonopolis is a fractious example of fading starlet obsessed with fame, youth and status. Manipulative, selfish and rampageous her character does attempt to pass some semblance of wisdom onto the delusional and self centred Chance Wayne. Vanity of the person and power are psychological troupes Williams likes to play out in the context of his plays and to expose views which are at odds to the changing social settings and politics.

Unlike Williams, Cattrall reined in the excess of her role just when required and it made me wish I could see her act in a variety of roles in any media. Her ability to transcend media from tv to screen to stage suggests she is well cast in this role and a marvellous choice. In all the Old Vic are forging a forgotten genre by bringing Tennessee Williams back into the limelight. It is a reminder that history and wisdom consistently fail to be passed onto youth and also society. I'm glad the play is played straight and no attempt to figuratively set it in a modern context takes place. But the most satisfying element is that momentary decision acted upon, spurred on by an article in the Evening Standard left on a train, to see Kim Cattrall in a play did not disappoint. It was a satisfying as hoped and therefore I would happily see this production again. Take the opportunity to go, reacquaint yourself with old school drama and this is from a film buff not a theatre goer.

Sweet Bird of Youth is on at The Old Vic from June 1st to August 31st. 

4 comments:

  1. Argh, I should have gotten tickets to that play too!

    There were so many good things to see it was hard to choose.

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  2. It gave me great pleasure to read this. I agree with everything you say about Kim Cattrall.

    I guess some of her depth must come from her family history. A friend told me about a BBC show in which Cattrall searches for clues on her long-lost father. My friend, never a SATC fan and who never spent more than 2 seconds thinking about Kim Cattrall, said that she was balling by the end of the show and that Kim Cattrall was the most unpretentious and sincere celebrity-in-action she had ever seen. I've never seen it, myself, but would love to. Here's a link about it:
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00m42gr

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    Replies
    1. Awh thanks for this!! And the link xx

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  3. woooh! I found the whole episode on Youtube!
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xsZOj3yMh0I

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