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Published: 12 April 2007
The crown goes to Wanamaker in revival of Tennessee’s classic

National Theatre

SERAFINA (Zoe Wanamaker) dreamt that a rose tattoo etches itself above her left breast on the night she conceived her daughter.
Her Sicilian husband Rosario married her when she was 14. As she announced she made love to her several times every night after that.
They went to live in the Italian quarter of New Orleans, where she is still a dressmaker and seamstress, and he drove his lorry filled up with bananas and carried contraband namely drugs.
His accidental death threw her into four years of grief that she commemorates in a shrine of his cremated remains beneath an illuminated portrait of The Virgin.
Serafina makes no concessions or compromises, fiercely protecting her daughter Rosa’s virginity. Eventually Alvaro (Darrell D’Silva), another banana truck worker, worms his way into her cold bed and even affects a rose tattoo on his chest. In spite of all she has not betrayed her dead husband and that she remains beyond reproach in spite of worrying gossip.
Wanamaker does not parody Manyani’s pastor Italian. This is a woman who battles with her pain and past. She has that rare gift of comic flare and the ability to convey the reality of her daily life where she sows and repairs; “I did nine white graduation gowns”.
Alvaro seeks to capture her by mawkish tricks but he too wants to leave with her. He is not a complete predator. After all he has three very demanding dependents. Williams’ brilliance at human understanding shines through his lonely characters. But in rejection and humiliation they are gone. Serafina seems indestructible.
Mark Thompson’s design is well suited to the Olivier stage. And Nicholas Hytner, who took over after Pimlott died a fw months ago, delivered the play as fresh as when Williams’ wrote it.
There is good support from Susannah Fielding while Margaret McCarthyin the role of Assunta reminded me of those vast grandmothers always holding things together in a crisis. But to Wanamaker must go the crown.
On the stage of the Olivier she is a powerhouse of some of the most convincing performances on the London stage – go to the Southbank and experience it.
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