Sweet Bird Of Youth – Chichester Festival Theatre Until 24th June 2017
Review By Sarah Miatt
Sweet Bird of Youth is a 1959 play by now, legendary playwright Tennessee Williams. As with many of his plays it follows the themes of age, mental illness and social standing as well as failed ambition and political corruption. It has spawned many productions both in the U.K. and the USA as well as an Academy Award winning film.
We follow the story of Chance Wayne, a failed actor in his late twenties who is making a living as a gigolo. He meets the famous veteran actress Alexandra Del Lago, recognising her whilst she is incognito after a perceived failed comeback and latches on to her. They travel to his hometown of St Cloud where, unbeknown to the actress Chance intends to bring some meaning back to his life by winning back the love of his childhood sweetheart, Heavenly Finley, after being run out of town years previously by her politician father, Boss. However Heavenly is a shadow of the girl he once knew having almost died of a failed operation after catching a disease from Chance caused by his promiscuity.
This play is not without its challenges. It is very long coming in at almost three hours. At least an hour of this right at the beginning is pretty much a two hander between the characters of Chance and Alexandra. Also a challenge was making the large stage at the beautiful Chichester Festival Theatre seem like a more intimate space like a hotel room.
Thanks to the charisma and acting talent of the cast this play did not feel as long as it was. So engaged were we it seemed that barely any time had past at all when the lights came up for the interval.
The staging was excellent. All scenes had an impressive focal point, either the bed in the hotel room, the patio at Boss Finley’s home or the bar in the hotel. The shuttered windows were used to great effect and the palm trees we could just see through the slats were very impressive when they moved in the breeze. Also used to great effect was the dressing table and backless mirror used in the hotel and the use of video screens to show Boss Finley’s speech at his political rally.
Sweet Bird of Youth’s two leads are simply outstanding, Brian J Smith as hustler Chance Wayne took us on a range of emotions through the play. Whilst at times very dislikable because of his actions, Smith made Chance Wayne sympathetic, heartbreaking, angry and funny. He appeared almost childlike in some points and his face had physically altered by the strain at the end of the play.
Marcia Gay Harden as Alexandra del Lago gave an impressive performance as the fading actress. She gave a convincing and heartrending rendition of a woman who feels her life has come to an end and whilst in her drug and alcohol stupor was very funny and desperate in equal measure and completely stole the show.
They were well supported by the rest of the cast, particularly Richard Cordery as the detestable corrupt politician Boss Finley and Victoria Bewick who was heartbreaking as his daughter, Heavenly.
All in all despite the length and the heavy subject matter, Sweet Bird Of Youth is an impressive and deep production that has a powerful impact.