“Well, I may have done better, but God knows I’ve done worse,” comments the Princess Kosmonopolis as she surveys the much younger, smoothly bare-chested man she’s just spent the night with and awoken beside in a hotel in an American Gulf Coast town. Since she’s played by Kim Cattrall, the sex siren of Sex and the City fame, you can’t, of course, help thinking of the sassy Samantha Jones that she played in that TV series.
Kim Cattrall and Seth Numrich in Sweet Bird Of Youth at the Old Vic, London Photo: Tristram Kenton
But the production goes to some efforts to disguise her otherwise - she’s buried underneath the worst wig and behind the worst spectacles in London that make her look like a cross between Lucille Ball and Marj Proops. That’s a constant visual distraction in a play that is all about stripping the layers and lies, desires and desperation that she and the young man she’s become strangely hitched to are tied by.
James Graham, the young English playwright who has stitched together this version of the play from what he calls the “eye-watering numbers of performable versions” Williams wrote, has also dubbed it “the blind spot in an otherwise familiar catalogue” - but in fact I’ve seen two notable previous versions, including a genuine bona fide movie star Lauren Bacall at the Haymarket in 1985, directed by none other than Harold Pinter, and Clare Higgins in an Olivier award-winning performance in the role at the National Theatre in 1995.
Though Cattrall has been demonstrating a commendable attachment to returning to the theatrical stage over the last few years, she’s not in their league of either legend or talent respectively. Her breathy, husky performance is in one emotional register throughout.
Broadway actor Seth Numrich, like a cross between a young Paul Newman and David Tennant, has the right looks and brings an accumulating edgy desperation to the role of Chance Wayne, the young drifter with an eye for the main chance but who is also desperate to rekindle the relationship with the love of his life.
Marianne Elliott’s production suffers from a grinding earnestness, but the sumptuous sets of Rae Smith, beautifully lit by Bruno Poet, anchor both time and place stunningly.