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The Rose Tattoo

Tennessee Williams
RNT Olivier

Zoë Wanamaker as Serafina delle Rose

Serafina delle Rose is a feisty Sicilian lady who has made her family home amongst an immigrant community just outside New Orleans. Her life is good, praying to Our Lady and having her wishes fulfilled thanks to the contraband goods carried underneath the bananas in her husband's truck.

She may live in a wooden cabin but it is ornately decorated with expensive knick-knacks that support her somewhat delusional belief in her husband's aristocracy back home and her own wish to look down on the neighbours. Williams' fans will instantly recognise the type, she might well be a Sicilian second cousin to A Streetcar Named Desire's Blanche Dubois or Amanda Wingfield from The Glass Menagerie.

Designer Mark Thompson has cleverly set the house on a revolve that eventually, like her life, turns full circle. He has also gone overboard on the roseate imagery that this play demands but which sometimes gets dangerously close to a running gag.

Serafina's world collapses after she receives a commission from Estelle, a brassy blonde played by Sharon Bower, who wishes to use the lady's renowned skills as a seamstress to create a beautiful pink silk shirt for her lover.

Before the commission can be carried out, the protagonist's husband, a man on whom she dotes, is killed when his truck crashes and explodes; simultaneously removing the need for the silk shirt.

Serafina then goes into a three-year stupor worshipping the memory of a man whom she deifies and withdrawing from society to the extent that she does not dress and lets her work slip. She also makes life very difficult for her pretty, intelligent 15 year-old daughter Rosa, played with great lightness and sensitivity by Susannah Fielding.

The still-young Serafina is eventually brought out of her shell by the arrival of Alvaro Mangiacavallo. In an accent that perfectly imitates Chico Marx, this straightforward fellow Sicilian happily proclaims himself the grandson of a village idiot but is still offended when Americans refer to him by the anglicised version of his name, eat a horse.

Darrell D'Silva may not make an appearance until after the interval but his impact as a man who lives up to his inheritance, with little brain but much passion, is substantial.

This simple shag, a shabby simulacrum of her late husband, gives Serafina a glimpse of happiness and enables the maddened widow to exorcise her demons and re-enter life. At the same time, this releases Rosa to adulthood and her sweet, golden-earringed sailor boy, Andrew Langtree as Jack Hunter.

Zoe Wanamaker makes an entrancing heroine, whether depressed, angry or sexy and uses all of her well-honed talents to make a contrary and difficult lady absolutely believable.

This production was originally conceived by Steven Pimlott who sadly died after rehearsing the cast for just one week. We should all be grateful that Nicholas Hytner has taken over the job from his great friend and ensured that this final production is a worthy tribute to a great career.

Most tickets are available at £10, thanks to the sponsorship of Travelex and are likely to get snapped up very quickly. A bargain like this should not be missed so book today.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher