CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF
Director: Benedict Andrews
Screenwriter: Tennessee Williams
Runtime: 195 mins. including interval
Australian release date: 5 May 2018
Previewed at: Dendy Newtown, Sydney, on 24 April 2018.
The latest National Theatre Live production to grace our screens is Tennessee William’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 1955 play Cat On A Hot Tin Roof. It comes from the Young Vic and is directed by Australian wunderkind Benedict Andrews, who also directed the 2014 NTL season of A Streetcar Named Desire. Cat… had a limited sell-out season late last year and is another feather in the cap for these superb productions made accessible to Australian audiences via the wonders of digital transmission.
Set on a cotton plantation on a steamy Mississippi night, a Southern family have gathered to celebrate Big Daddy’s (Colm Meany) birthday. He is the plantation owner, a man who appears to be out of touch but in fact has a clearer insight into the fragmented nature of his fractious family than they give him credit for. His wife Big Mama (Lisa Palfrey) is an over-bearing, deluded woman who tries vainly to control the members of her family and their respective partners. This is comprised of her eldest son Brick (Jack O’Connell), who’s in the grip of alcoholism, attempting to drown out the memory of his life-long friend, Skipper, Brick’s wife Maggie (Sienna Miller), her other son Gooper (Brian Gleeson) and his conniving wife Mae (Hayley Squires) and the ‘no-necked monsters,’ their brood of children.
The play opens as Brick (whose leg is in plaster after an accident the night before) and Maggie, discuss their relationship, their seemingly non-existent future, their childless union and their disdain for their relatives. We soon learn that Brick has no intention of joining the night’s festivities but is intent on drinking the many bottles of liquor he has stashed in their bedroom. As the evening progresses, we come to understand that Big Daddy has been misdiagnosed with cancer but has recently been given the all clear. Or is this just another lie, many of which seem to circulate between the members of the family? There’s a lot at stake as to who benefits from Big Daddy’s vast estate should he, indeed, be facing a terminal illness. While celebratory fireworks explode, Big Daddy confronts Brick about the reasons for his drinking and the events of his past and, before long, all hell breaks loose.
This production brings you blistering performances, without exception. Miller and O’Connell are, to put it mildly, HOT! and there’s considerable nudity on stage. She’s sexy and suitably feline as ‘Maggie the Cat’ and O’Connell wears little more than a towel. Meany is solid and seemingly indestructible as Big Daddy and Palfrey’s Big Mama character exudes a crassness and lack of understanding that makes her simultaneously irritating and sympathetic, like watching someone suffer a nervous breakdown before your eyes (she receives thunderous applause at the play’s end). Once again, this is theatre at its best and it goes to show that a minimal set can be very effective when you have players as accomplished as these. Anything more elaborate is not necessary because, in his remarkable handling of dialogue and rhythm, Williams brings his close observation of life to the fore. Cat On A Hot Tin Roof is all about relationships rather than individuals and, because of that, Williams’s work still resonates decades after it was conceived.