Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

Tennessee Williams
West Yorkshire Playhouse
West Yorkshire Playhouse Quarry Theatre

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

It’s a year since I’ve been in a British theatre, so visiting one of the best, the West Yorkshire Playhouse ‘Quarry’, to see a great classic of the twentieth century, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, is an exciting prospect. The theatre is full and as functionally excellent as ever—no restricted view seats in this beauty.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is a family drama: overpowering father (Big Daddy, played by Richard Cordery), gushing mother (Big Mama—Amanda Boxer), two sons (Brick—Jamie Parker, Gooper—Benedict Sandiford), and two daughters-in-law (Maggie—Zoe Boyle, Mae—Hannah Stokely).

Big Daddy is dying, Big Mama can’t face it. Brick is drinking himself to death, possibly because of the loss of a male love. Maggie, the ‘cat’, is jerky with sexual frustration and the lack of love. Gooper is aspiring and Mae is his devious driving force. Big Daddy is the biggest cotton-planter in the Delta and his ‘29 thousand acres of the richest land this side of the Valley Nile’ will soon be up for grabs. Gooper and Mae want it, Brick wants another drink. Maggie wants Brick and the estate.

Three acts drive ever more deeply into the emotional morass as Gooper and Mae’s children flutter on and off like butterflies and Doc Baugh (David Peart) and Reverend Tooker (Simon Roberts) pose the question: why did Williams put them on stage? It’s a good question. They are there to convey a few bits of information that could easily be given in other ways. It’s the only flaw in the script, and all masterpieces are flawed one way or another.

Sadly it’s not the only flaw in the production. It is as if director Sarah Esdaile, afraid of the emotional intensity of the play, has decided to slip in the slapstick. One example out of all too many: Simon Roberts, who has been persuaded, or allowed, to give a classic English ‘silly ass’ performance as Preacher Tooker, is dragged onto Big Mama’s knee and gets a bottom spanking.

Williams, who gives so many stage directions the script scarcely needs a director, writes: "The Reverend Tooker extends his hand. She grabs it and pulls him into her lap with a shrill laugh that spans an octave in two notes." Mama goes on to say, "Ever seen a preacher in a fat lady’s lap? Hey, hey, folks! Ever seen a preacher in a fat lady’s lap?" Uncomfortable humour enough, spanking just takes the edge of it. And, in passing, Mama’s wardrobe and Dame Edna glasses also over-egg the pudding.

In addition to the shame of an endlessly giggling vicar (why not let him drop his trousers and be done with it), we have a moon that stops and starts on its long journey into night, an invisible wall established in the first two acts is walked through in the third. And, just to make it three out of several niggles, Brick claims he cannot get trousers over the comically large plaster on his broken foot and yet somehow wiggles that plaster into a pair of pyjama trousers. Why didn’t someone tell someone?

But enough, these are, in the main, minor distractions from an otherwise good production. Zoe Boyle brings an unexpected freshness and almost frailty to a part that can so easily be played as a vamp, and the core relationship between Brick and Big Daddy is played with impressive depth and panache. Either Cordery or Parker would have stolen the show, had each not had the other to play against.

Richard Cordery’s Big Daddy is a massive a tour-de-force and Jamie Parker’s elegantly understated portrayal of a wry drunk, almost comfortable in his inebriation, is nothing short of brilliant.

Reviewer: Ray Brown

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