Kim Cattrall Boozes as Gigolo Tries Blackmail: U.K. Stage

British-born Kim Cattrall, of “Sex and the City” fame, is fast approaching national treasure status.

She’s currently on top form in London playing Alexandra Del Lago in Tennessee Williams’s “Sweet Bird of Youth.” Alexandra is an ageing, myopic Hollywood star whose comeback movie has proved a stinker. She’s decided to numb herself with pills and vodka.

She hooks up with Chance Wayne (Seth Numrich), a handsome young gigolo on the make. He wants Alexandra to get him a film contract so he can return home in glory and marry his childhood sweetheart.

The long opening scene shows Williams at his best. The two damaged protagonists rise from their rumpled hotel sheets in their underwear, to circle around each other like boozy boxers. Insults are traded, bluffs called, blackmail threatened.

“When monster meets monster, one monster has to give way, and it will never be me,” barks Alexandra.

When Cattrall was in Noel Coward’s “Private Lives” in London three years ago, she employed a high acid-sweet voice to deliver her barbs. Here her inebriated rasps and growls are around an octave lower, and the transformation is astonishing.

Combined with her superb comic gifts -- she can get a surprising laugh out of even the most painful lines -- and her ability to switch from rapacious to vulnerable in a blink, it makes a terrific edge-of-seat performance.

Complex Innocence

Numrich is superb too, and he displays a complex innocence in the role of Chance. When he wipes some misapplied make-up from Alexandra’s face he conveys both tenderness and disgust: no mean feat.

There are some problems too. The 1959 play was cobbled together from two existing one-act pieces, and the seams stretch badly.

In the sub-plot, Chance must face up to Boss Finley (Owen Roe), the father of his childhood girlfriend. This Finley is a hypocritical, racist, lecherous provincial tyrant. Give him hooves, horns, and a puff of stage sulfur, and you’d hardly spot the difference.

Despite Marianne Elliott’s fine production and a gorgeous set from Rae Smith conjuring faded Southern grandeur, the small-town scenes sag and ramble.

Thank goodness we return to Alexandra and Chance, and discover a surprising twist to their tale which generates even more sparks between them. Cattrall prowls the stage like a lion, owning the space completely.

Want to bet she’ll be Dame Kim Cattrall before long? Rating: ****.

Miss Marple

Agatha Christie -- who was made a Dame -- is one of the subjects of Philip Meeks’s one-person play “Murder, Marple and Me.”

Janet Prince plays three roles in the enjoyable, low-budget touring show: Agatha Christie, the fictional Miss Marple, and the actress Margaret Rutherford.

Rutherford, who played Marple in several 1960s films, appears to be tormented by a dark secret. Christie, visiting the film set, tries to discover what it is.

The scenes of dialogue between the cool perceptive Christie, and the scatty child-like Rutherford crackle with excitement and wit, and Prince switches back and forth between them with astonishing agility. If she’s not quite as impressive in the role of Marple, the mystery still grips to the end. Rating: ***.

“Sweet Bird of Youth” is at the Old Vic, The Cut, SE1 8NB. Information: +44-844-871-7628

“Murder, Marple and Me” is at the Ambassadors Theatre on June 18 and 19. or +44-8448-112-334

What the Stars Mean:
*****      Excellent
****       Very good
***        Average
**         Mediocre
*          Poor
(No stars) Worthless

(Warwick Thompson is a critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

Muse highlights include Scott Reyburn on the art market, Warwick Thompson on London theater, Elin McCoy on wine and Jorg von Uthmann on Paris culture.