Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

Tennessee Williams
Nottingham Playhouse production
Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford
(2006)

Publicity graphic

In a beautifully elegant bedroom in the Deep South, Maggie, dressed only in her slip, is getting ready for a party. It is the sixty fifth birthday of Big Daddy and the family are helping him to celebrate but, like vultures waiting for the kill, they are vying with each other for his affection – and a bigger share of the inheritance.

This is a wealthy family, living in the midst of their ‘twenty-eight thousand acres of rich land’, inhabiting their beautiful house in an enviable position close to the cooling breezes of the river, but wealth doesn’t bring happiness. (Or so I am told, although I’d like the chance to find out!)

The whole action of the play takes place in this bedroom (fine design by Edward Lipscomb) with louvred doors leading to bathroom and terrace, and noisy children can be heard playing outside, children referred to by Maggie as ‘no neck monsters’. Desperately longing for her own child, she resents those of her sister-in-law, and she paces to and fro with a non-stop tirade of chatter to husband Brick.

Maggie (Lesley Harcourt) is the Cat of the title – as nervous, highly-strung, tense and agitated as a cat on a hot tin roof – but her theory is that victory for the cat involves ‘staying on it’ and stay she does, tenaciously hanging on to her position in the family despite all odds, and despite the feeling of living in a cage – as are they all.

Former football player Brick, played by a hunky Ben Hull, has broken his ankle and has a crutch to support him, but his main crutch is whisky which he drinks until the ‘click’ in his head tells him he has reached oblivion. His manner is weary and disinterested, but given to sudden bursts of uncontrollable violent anger and the crutch frequently becomes a weapon used with great force. (Directed by Richard Baron, this is a very physical production!) He has refused to sleep with his wife for some time and even ‘hates the sight of her’, so there’s no chance of the longed for baby, but Maggie won’t give up.

In this play the whole range of human weaknesses is compressed into the nine characters of this seemingly close-knit, yet dysfunctional family, comprising avarice, jealousy, envy, distrust, infidelity, suppressed sexuality and alcoholism I believe love is in there somewhere but it’s a little hard to find, unless it is the love of money as they are all waiting to inherit Big Daddy’s fortune.

William Gaunt magnificently inhabits the character of Big Daddy with a splendidly gruff, no nonsense manner. The celebrations for his birthday don’t interest him at all, what he wants is to talk to his son Brick and discover the reason for his drinking, and in a touching and emotionally charged scene father and son reveal some of their innermost thoughts and feelings.

Rosemary Leach is also superb as Big Mama, the matriarch trying to be in complete control of the family, but still having to defer to her husband.

On the surface is the thin veneer of civilised sophistication of a wealthy Mississippi family in the 1950s, but gradually all the pretence is stripped away and we see the beginnings of the disintegration of a way of life – epitomised, perhaps, by the fact that Big Daddy, the patriarch and very much in control, is dying of cancer.

Hot, steamy and emotionally charged, the sound of a saxophone playing “I got it bad, and that ain’t good” neatly sums it up. It left me feeling drained, but well worth it!

Touring to Richmond

This review was first published in Theatreworld Internet Magazine.

Reviewer: Sheila Connor