Let’s just say the production photos are a true reflection of what the audience sees in this production of Cat On A Hot Tin Roof. This being a Tennessee Williams play, there’s a metaphor in pretty much everything, and in particular, as soon as the curtain rises, one in Brick (Jack O’Connell) being – well, exposed. Oh, look! The chosen heir of the emperor has no clothes. And on a surface level, why would he? He’s taking a shower in the privacy of his own house. As for the deeper meanings, that would, as ever, be giving too much away.
The set (Magda Willi) has brought the show into the twenty-first century, but with the text left behind in the twentieth, this does have a jarring effect from time to time. Big Mama (Lisa Palfrey) therefore appears to have forgotten the meaning of ‘mobile’ in the term ‘mobile phone’ and must re-enter the stage, as per the script, to answer it. The respect given to Big Daddy (Colm Meaney) out of deference to his advancing years also seems slightly out of place a generation (or two) after this play’s original Broadway production in 1955. But it is the Fifties-style examination, with Fifties attitudes, of the closer than close, ahem, friendship between Brick and the off-stage character Skipper that is frankly bizarre, unless the resetting of the play to the present day is set aside in a suspension of disbelief.
Williams’ ‘Notes for the Designer’ have, in part, been dispensed with for this production. It was the playwright’s intention that “the room must evoke some ghosts” and be “poetically haunted”. This set is far from providing either, being fairly spartan and functional. It does, at least, soften the “dread of death” with lighting (Jon Clark) that evokes a sunny summer day. And while Williams instructed “two intermissions”, here, there is only one interval: at the performance I attended, a member of theatre staff was kind enough to project his voice across the auditorium to say the second ‘half’ would be an hour and forty minutes. I am pleased to report that it felt considerably shorter than that.
Sienna Miller as Maggie, Brick’s wife, performs convincingly enough, and her character’s honesty is refreshing amongst so many other characters that prefer to save face over telling it like it is. It’s O’Connell’s Brick that truly shines, however, particularly in a role that involves, on occasion, monosyllabic responses to extensive and rambling speeches from Maggie. Brick the character may be impotent, and debatably in more ways than one, but O’Connell is on fire. Metaphorically speaking, of course.
Gooper (Brian Gleeson) – I don’t think I’ll ever tire of loving American names – is the Good Boy to Brick’s Bad Boy. Meaney’s Big Daddy could have been a tad more explosive and bombastic: the patriarch’s angry temperament as indicated in the text (there are capital letters in several places in Act Two) didn’t come across as passionately as it could have done. But – credit where credit is due – the chauvinism is palpable, as is the gripping fear of death.
This is an intriguing and thoughtful revival of a modern classic, best enjoyed by those who like what they see at the theatre to be thrilling and powerful. One more thing: fans of Tennessee Williams will be aware that two versions of the final act are printed in the published script, the one as originally written and the one eventually used in the first Broadway production. Personally, I think this production, at least in this regard, made the right choice.
Review by Chris Omaweng
The truth hurts.
On a steamy night in Mississippi, a Southern family gather at their cotton plantation to celebrate Big Daddy’s birthday. The scorching heat is almost as oppressive as the lies they tell. Brick and Maggie dance round the secrets and sexual tensions that threaten to destroy their marriage. With the future of the family at stake, which version of the truth is real – and which will win out?
Sienna Miller stars as Maggie alongside Jack O’Connell as Brick and Colm Meaney as Big Daddy. A return to the stage for director Benedict Andrews following his smash hit production of A Streetcar Named Desire. Tennessee Williams’ searing, poetic story of a family’s fight for survival is a modern masterpiece.
With Brian Gleeson, Richard Hansell, Colm Meaney, Sienna Miller, Jack O’Connell, Lisa Palfrey, Michael J Shannon, Hayley Squires.
Cat On a Hot Tin Roof
Apollo Theatre, 31 Shaftesbury Avenue, London W1D 7ES
Booking until 7 October 2017
Age Recommendation: 15+