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 The Theatreguide.London Review

The Rose Tattoo
Olivier Theatre      Spring - Summer 2007

Like all Tennessee Williams' plays, The Rose Tattoo is rich in its poetry, lush in its overt symbolism and operatic in its passions. Unlike most, it is also almost uninterruptedly light and airy in tone, a joyous celebration of life, love, sex - and roses.

Serafina delle Rose lives on the warm memories of her husband Rosario, with his rose tattoo and rose oil in his hair, who made love to her every night of their fourteen-year marriage, and whose ashes now sit in her home, directly below the shrine to the Virgin Mary.

But Serafina has not taken well to widowhood, lying about the house in her slip, cursing the inquisitive neighbours, and keeping a tight rein on her teenage daughter (named Rosa, of course) who, very much her parents' child, is rushing eagerly to be deflowered.

Will the lonely, somewhat clownish truck driver who wanders by catch Serafina's eye? Will the prospect of a real man in her bed remind her of what she's been missing?

Will she trade her idolatry of Rosario for the more immediate satisfactions of Alvaro? And will she relax the reins and give Rosa her blessing to follow the boy she loves?

Does a rose bloom in the woods?

The play is a delight from start to finish, and the only criticism to be made of this National Theatre production is that it is sometimes too reserved, too British, not quite ready to give it the unreservedly over-the-top enthusiasm it wants.

Tragically, director Steven Pimlott died early in the rehearsal period, and NT Artistic Director Nicholas Hytner took over. You can't see the seams, but there is the sense that a single guiding vision is missing, or not as strong as it might be.

But there are enough touches of the rich abandon the play needs to give hope that, as the cast relax into their roles, they'll all loosen up even further.

ZoŽ Wanamaker is delightful when she does catch that spirit as Serafina, more in the second half than the first, and it would be nice to come back in a couple of weeks and see that she's let go more in the early scenes.

She's helped a lot in the second half by Darrell D'Silva's uninhibitedly comic and life-affirming Alvero, and throughout by Maggie McCarthy as a warmly sympathetic neighbour.

Susannah Fielding captures Rosa's mix of innocence and sexual itch, despite an accent that changes from scene to scene, and Andrew Langtree is attractive as the almost unbelievably self-controlled boy she yearns for.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of The Rose Tattoo - National Theatre 2007
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