Theatre review: Sweet Bird Of Youth – Chichester Festival Theatre

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Marcia Gay Harden and Brian J Smith in Tennessee Williams’s jaded Sweet Bird Of Youth

One result of this was Sweet Bird Of Youth, an overwrought melodrama infused with his fear of ageing and dependence on commercial sex.

One Easter Sunday (a typically unsubtle detail), Alexandra Del Lago (Marcia Gay Harden), an ageing movie star fleeing from what she believes to have been a failed comeback, and Chance Wayne (Brian J Smith), a hustler she has picked up along the way, arrive in Chance’s home town of St Cloud.

In a first act that is almost entirely expository, Chance describes his early life in St Cloud and his enduring love for Heavenly, daughter of Boss Finley, a crooked local politician.

Chance begs Alexandra to use her influence in Hollywood to have Heavenly and himself placed under contract, a plan that is absurdly unrealistic, even before he discovers that he has infected Heavenly with a venereal disease.

Alexandra describes both herself and Chance as “monsters” and, while that may be unfair, neither appears worthy of our interest, let alone our sympathy.

Jonathan Kent’s uncharacteristically lacklustre production seeks to compensate for this by emphasising Finley’s corruption and even interpolates a TV newscast of race riots after his political rally, but to little avail.

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Marcia Gay Harden in the Chichester Festival Theatre production

The only justification for the play’s revival lies in the casting, which here goes awry.

Marcia Gay Harden, while a fine and sensitive actress, both looks too young and lacks the essential old-style glamour that Lauren Bacall brought to the part on stage and Elizabeth Taylor on television.

Moreover, her relationship with Brian J Smith’s attractive but awkward Chance lacks chemistry, preventing the production from catching fire.

Working at Southwark PlayhouseSOUTHWARK PLAYHOUSE

Liam Tamne and the cast of Working at Southwark Playhouse

Working – Southwark Playhouse

A far more worthwhile piece of Americana is Working, Stephen Schwartz’s musical adaptation of Studs Terkel’s book of the same name.

In a series of interviews with a wide range of workers about their jobs Terkel, the greatest oral historian of his day, offers us the “extraordinary dreams of ordinary people”.

With odd exceptions, including a teacher, a socialite and a financial manager, the workers are all blue collar. As one of them puts it: “I’m a dying breed – a labourer.”

The financial manager, singing the praises of robber barons, is the only unsympathetic figure in a gallery of people who wish to be validated by their work but not to be defined by it.

Working at Southwark PlayhouseSOUTHWARK PLAYHOUSE

Working is Stephen Schwartz’s musical adaptation of Studs Terkel’s book of the same name

Schwartz, the composer of Godspell and Wicked, has attracted a group of other accomplished composers and lyricists to collaborate with him; most notably Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator of the smash-hit Hamilton.

Despite its disparate progenitors the score has remarkable coherence, with standout numbers in Miranda’s Delivery, Craig Carnelia’s Joe, and Schwartz’s Fathers And Sons.

The 90-minute non-narrative show has a joyous energy in Luke Sheppard’s stylish production, much aided by Fabian Aloise’s dynamic choreography.

Gillian Bevan and Peter Polycarpou lead an expert ensemble of 12, six of whom are making their professional debuts, all of whom are fully validated by their work.

★★★★✩

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