By Mark Shenton
Updated April 22, 2007 at 04:00 AM EDT
Catherine Ashmore

Tennessee Williams called his 1951 play The Rose Tattoo ”my love-play to the world,” and its beautiful story of spiritual and emotional rebirth after death continues to have a redemptive, resonating power. That is underlined here in London’s National Theatre production that — like the play itself — began in death, when original director Steven Pimlott died of cancer just a week into rehearsals. But the show he cast and oversaw was taken over by the National’s artistic director Nicholas Hytner, and together their work animates this life-celebrating play as a tender, touching story of middle-aged love set against a teaming portrait of community life.

It is so full of a totally inhabited sense of life that even the black goat that appears is for real. But if the goat is put on a leash, Zoë Wanamaker’s stupendous performance as Serafina, the seamstress in mourning for her trucker husband, is an untethered joy. As this superstitious yet sensitive woman emerges from grief to reconnect to her sensuous needs with Darrell D’Silva’s Sicilian hunk, the power of sex and love is given captivating expression. And Wanamaker (last seen on Broadway in 2006’s Awake and Sing!) inhabits her role with a ferocious, raw energy. (Tickets: 01144 207452 3000) A-