REVIEW: The Rose Tattoo at the National Theatre

PUBLISHED: 12:46 12 April 2007 | UPDATED: 14:30 07 September 2010

Three star rating Tennessee Williams theatrical universe is littered with isolated, sexually- repressed misfits. And, despite some moments of bleak humour, his work could never be described as light-hearted. This tragic comedy was penned during one of

Three star rating

Tennessee Williams' theatrical universe is littered with isolated, sexually- repressed misfits. And, despite some moments of bleak humour, his work could never be described as light-hearted.

This tragic comedy was penned during one of the happier periods of the playwright's life and he wrote of the works' "curious light-dark quality". However, his signature mood of darkness and despair, much in evidence here, is hardly conducive to laughter.

And the resultant piece, with its playful approach to weighty themes, feels as though Lorca had written the book for a Rogers and Hammerstein musical. Consequently, this story of Serafina - a Sicilian-American seamstress living on the Gulf Coast - strikes an indeterminate emotional chord.

Having learned of the death of her contraband smuggling husband, Rosario delle Rose, Serafina suffers a miscarriage. Her despair is added to by the eventual discovery of her beloved man's infidelity. Her subsequent retreat from the world and the virtual house- arrest under which she keeps her daughter soon brings a worried teacher to Serafina's door.

It is, however, pure chance that ushers an Italian truck driver with the body of her husband and the "head of a clown" into her home. That both men transport bananas for a living gives some idea of the level of the humour on offer here. Indeed, the bludgeoning use of symbolic motif badly mars this work. The phallic image of the rose tattoo is mercilessly over- used, and having a wristwatch signal the passing of time just seems trite.

Sadly, this production, whose direction has been taken over by Nicholas Hytner after the death of the much-esteemed Steven Pimlott, feels like a bloodless exercise in cultural karaoke.

The supposedly mischievous village children who periodically adorn the stage are unconvincing, and Rosalind Knight's wild-haired witch woman is more silly than sinister.

The chasing of a curly- horned goat around the stage does little to add brutal authenticity to this rather clinical production.

Even so, Zoe Wanamaker strives valiantly to animate her role, and Darrell D' Silva makes an engaging, if cartoonish, Alvaro Mangiacavallo. Mark Thompson's handsome design also deserves mention.

There may be a great play somewhere within this sprawling mess. Unfortunately, it is more tragic than comic.

David Gavan

Until June 23.

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