Review: The Rose Tattoo, National Theatre

The Rose Tattoo, one of Tennessee Williams’ earlier plays, is a life-affirming tale of sexual passion, love, betrayal and dealing with loss. Sadly, the original director Steven Pimlott died earlier this year, meaning Nicholas Hytner had to take up the reins at the National Theatre, working with his friend’s notes and paying tribute to his memory in a most fitting way.

Set in the Sicilian community in New Orleans, the story follows Serafina della Rose, an exotic seamstress who when widowed struggles to balance cherishing his memory with actually living life. She locks herself away and this affects her daughter Rosa from enjoying life too, but when a buffoonish, tattooed truck driver arrives in town, something inside Serafina begins to stir which is good timing for Rosa as a hunky sailor named Jack catches her eye.

Zoë Wanamaker is excellent as Serafina, full of grand gesticulations and overloud pronouncements but this sense of exaggeration is exactly what the part needs, Sicilians are not known for their restraint and so whilst it may seem like it is bordering on parody at times, it feels all the more authentic for it. Darrell D’Silva as the truck driver whose connection to Serafina’s dead husband is more than he realises is also superb with a great comic sensibility that chimes perfectly with Wanamaker’s peroformance.

Making her professional debut as the sexually awakening Rosa, Susannah Fielding does well though I don’t imagine it would be too difficult to play lovestruck opposite Andrew Langtree’s Jack, possessed of a deliciously snug pair of sailor’s trousers! There’s a lot of enjoyment to be had in watching the supporting players, especially the gaggle of women, Rosalind Knight and Maggie McCarthy stood out for me and Nicolas Chagrin’s disapproving priest is also fun.

To be honest, it did take a while to get going and it drags a little at nearly three hours long. But the set of a revolving house looks fantastic, the use of kids gave it a bustling energy and the cameo by a goat is, well interesting. It was just ridiculously received, funny but why do audiences get so gooey when it comes to animals?! Altogether a passionate success albeit with some flaws, and a fitting tribute to Pimlott.

Photo: Alastair Muir

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