23 April 2007

The Rose Tattoo - National Theatre, Friday 20th April 2007

I read a review of one of Tennessee Williams' other plays currently showing in London in the theatre bookshop before going in and it read "Lock away the paracetamol and hide all the sharp knives - the dirgemaster is back in town" - presumably relating to the fact that nobody could ever accuse Williams of being a "laugh a minute" experience, so I was pleasantly suprised by the end of the play to find that The Rose Tattoo is actually quite amusing, if only in a bitter sweet kind of way. All the heavy-handed harbingers of doom are placed early on in the show, leading me (and apparently several other members of the audience) to think "here we go, happy for five minutes, miserable for the next two hours". It does, I suppose, depend on your perception of "miserable". Certainly the Widow delle Rose is perfectly placed to be miserable (and doesnt escape unscathed by the end). But the whole thing is gently optimistic and by the time the final curtain falls, you're left hoping that more good things are going to come her way.

Zoe Wannamaker is fantastic as Serafina, although she does tend to go for the broadbrush, caricature approach to "Italian" - tempestous, sulky, earthy and with lots of big hand gestures. But at least she can maintain a convincing Italian accent all the way through what must be a physically and emotionally exhausting part to play - she's rarely "off" the entire evening. That can't really be said for Susannah Fielding as her daughter Rosa, whose accent wanders from Italy to America via South Africa and back again all through the performance. Nor can Andrew Langtree as the sailor Jack Hunter, although in fairness a New Orleans accent is a real bugger to maintain. His costume showed, however, why the director had picked him for this part. Wannamaker's character exasperatedly asks at one point why the navy makes sailors' trousers so tight and by gum does Mr. Langtree fill them. I did vaguely hope that they might split up the rear seam at one point, but no joy, alas. Maggie McCarthy gave a well rounded (in all senses) portrayal of the elderly Assunta. The gaggle of kids in the production were great too, pottering happily round the set without being too intrusive, and making a complete carnival of the escaping goat episodes (why is it that you can put on a great production with a fantastic set and fantastic performances and still get the biggest reaction of the night by bringing a live animal on? I've seen this so many times - you only have to have Cinderella's coach pulled by a cute little pony or for Toto to bark at the Wicked Witch for the entire auditorium to be filled by people going "awwwwwwwww!" Bring the animal on twice and you're on a winner - "The show? Oh, it was OK I guess, can't really remember much about it - but there was a goat in it! A real one!"). Darryl D'Silva as Alvaro was just a touch too much "Shaddupa you face" for my liking - tipping just that little bit too far into caricature to be truly convincing.

Fantastic set - a "cut away" house on the revolve, showing both interior and exterior. However, the set designer clearly hadnt studied all the sight lines as, from my seat on the side, various posts and beams obscured the action sometimes.

Now, lets talk symbolism shall we? The play is called "The Rose Tattoo". Two of its characters are called Serafina and Rosa delle Rose, and the already-dead husband is called Rosauro, who apparently not only had the eponymous tattoo but also wore rose oil in his hair. The house is furnished with rose-covered carpets and curtains and cushions. The house itself stands on what appears to be a huge metal disc engraved with roses. Life may not be a bed of roses for Serafina, but she really can't escape all this heavy handed symbolism. Serafina is a dressmaker, and on two dummies hang a wedding dress and a funeral outfit. Hmmmm, what is the director saying here, I wonder? Would any dressmaker worth her salt really have the same two outfits on display for THREE YEARS? Or is the symbolism getting just a little too heavy here?

Anyway, even if the evening wasn't roses, roses all the way (bugger, even I'm doing the symbolism now), it was enjoyable and illuminating and I want Zoe Wannamaker to know that I recommended "The Rose Tattoo" to three people over the course of the following weekend. And THAT's something I never thought I'd say about a Tennessee Williams play.

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