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Chichester Festival Theatre – ‘Sweet Bird of Youth’

What links a notorious screen siren, a 1990s fantasy film and playwright James Graham? It’s “Sweet Bird of Youth.” Read on to find out more…

“Sweet Bird of Youth” was reputedly written for Tallulah Bankhead, celebrated screen and stage star and a friend of Tennessee Williams. Tallulah came from a prominent Alabama political family whom she often opposed publicly for their conservative views. She struggled with alcoholism and drug addiction and had a public and often scandalous sex life.

Tallulah played the role of the fading Hollywood legend Alexandra del Lago – who calls herself “The Princess Kosmonopolis” – in a Florida try-out; but at the play’s New York premiere in 1959 the role went to Geraldine Page, with Paul Newman as Chance, who later repeated their roles on screen.

Other actors to have played The Princess include Irene Worth and Diane Lane on Broadway, and Lauren Bacall, Clare Higgins and Kim Cattrall in London. Elizabeth Taylor appeared in a television version.

James Graham, whose play “This House” was one of the hits of Festival 2016 and whose new play Quiz will premiere in the Minerva in November, adapted “Sweet Bird of Youth” for a London revival in 2013. He wrote: ‘For many it’s the blind spot in an otherwise familiar catalogue by that genius American playwright….This is without doubt Tennessee’s most personal piece. His life’s turmoils are blazoned throughout it.’

In the 1992 Robert Zemeckis film “Death Becomes Her,” the lead character Madeline Ashton (played by Meryl Streep) is depicted as the star of a camp Broadway musical adaptation of “Sweet Bird of Youth” called “Songbird!”

“Sweet Bird of Youth” runs in the Festival Theatre from 2 – 24 June. The photo shows Marcia Gay Harden and Brian J. Smith in rehearsal.