The Rose Tattoo – May 2007


By: Tennessee Williams

Directed by: Steven Pimlott and Nicholas Hytner

Venue: Olivier Theatre

Date: Tuesday 15th May 2007

Steve and I had seen this play many years ago, with a good cast, and a good director, but just hadn’t got it at all. Neither of us could remember much about it, apart from this sense of bewilderment. We’re both Williams fans though, so we wanted to give it another try. And we’re very glad we did.

As this was in the Olivier, the set design was basically the small house that Serafina lives in (minus a few of the rooms) on the revolve, so scene changes could be pretty brisk. The entire set was based on roses – a pattern of roses was etched onto the flooring underneath the house, and rose patterns appeared on many of the costumes (not just Serafina’s), and in much of the fabric. There was even a goat (no roses to be seen there) which was led round the front of the set a couple of times.

The fairly realistic setting certainly helped, but this production was much better than the one we’d seen before. I lost a fair bit of the dialogue at the start, as it took me a while to tune into the accents. The older generation are Italian immigrants, while the younger generation speak the southern way, except when speaking Italian. There was much more humour than I expected, although Tennessee isn’t the dourest writer by any means.

The story concerns an Italian woman, very prideful of her marriage to an Italian Baron, and even more prideful of his faithfulness, who eventually learns, years after her husband’s death during an intercepted drug delivery, that he hasn’t been faithful at all. She’s already spent those years mourning his death excessively, and this discovery threatens to tip her over the edge. Amazingly enough, this is the very day on which her daughter graduates from High School; she’s met a young man to whom she’s attracted, and this causes a bout of over-protectiveness from her mother. Serafina also meets a replacement man, another truck driver, who arranges to have a rose tattoo put on his chest to help him woo the lady. Everything seems to work out OK, though it’s a bumpy ride.

Having read the notes in the program, this was intended to be a more optimistic play than his usual, and it certainly comes across that way. Instead of a picture of domestic entanglements which are driving everyone crazy (or crazier), we get a greater sense of progression with this one, partly because of the long time gap between the husband’s death and the rest of the action, but also because the relationships are more open. The outside world is more involved through the female “chorus” of her Italian neighbours and their children, plus a few others, including the priest.

I was clear about who these people were this time, and the difficulties in the relationship between mother and daughter were both moving and entertaining. I could see how Serafina is driven by her passion, and I just enjoyed watching the events unfold. Nice one.

© 2007 Sheila Evans at