Cat on a Hot Tin Roof – Review

SUMMARY from the WY Playhouse

Brick and his wife Maggie are gathered on the family plantation in the Mississippi Delta to celebrate patriarch Big Daddy’s sixty-fifth birthday. As the evening unfolds, cracks begin to appear in the wealthy family’s Southern gentility as tensions mount, secrets are revealed and unpleasant truths emerge.

Brimming with emotional intensity, family politics, greed, hypocrisy and suppressed sexuality, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof won the Pulitzer prize in 1955 and was made into a film starring Elizabeth Taylor and Paul Newman. Following her magnificent production of Death of a Salesman in 2010, and The Deep Blue Sea with Maxine Peake in 2011, Associate Director Sarah Esdaile returns to West Yorkshire Playhouse to direct this rich and timeless American classic, featuring Zoe Boyle (Downton Abbey’s Lavinia Swire), and Jamie Parker (Brownlie in Parade’s End).

From the moment the lights go down, Leeds and your daily life fades away. The scene is set by a sumptuous and at once detailed-yet-sparse set, which creates a warm, if cloying atmosphere. 

Then the play begins.

From the outset, I was fascinated by Maggie and her rather one-sided conversation with Brick; her taciturn near-alcoholic husband. Zoe Boyle owned the stage and her fast-talking, mood swinging, opinionated Maggie delights with her passion and repulses with her desperation in equal measure. Jamie Parker’s Brick was compelling during the first set, though his replies were primarily monosyllabic grunts. Indeed, the director stated afterwards that Maggie carries some 85-90% of the dialogue (at break neck speed) during that opening volley!

By the time the first interval was called, I was utterly involved, leaning forward at a very uncomfortable position and couldn’t believe that nearly an hour had passed. There was a moment of silence before the entire room started to hum with people eagerly discussing what they had seen. By pure coincidence I had been sat beside a twitter buddy, who happened to have stage experience and her insights into the set and the stage were fascinating. Even more so was how different our interpretations were! An excellent sign in a play that was only a third of the way through.

The second part expands the world by introducing the (often repugnant) extended family. As intense as the preceding; I found the incredibly accurate portrayal of Brick – a man who deliberately dulls his senses with booze – exhausting and emotively charged. Full credit must also go to Richard Cordery – who played a dominant and abusive character with an extraordinary mix of aggression and charm to great effect. As the plot began to unfold; he managed to create pathos despite increasingly unforgivable actions.
Another interval. This time there was less conversation and more racing to the facilities!
The concluding segment brings all the players back together with an explosive revelation. Once again, I was riveted. By now, my heart and soul belonged completely to Maggie and my eyes followed her, even as I strained to follow the other, sometimes overlapping, conversations on the stage. She and Brick seemed hyperaware of one another, even when in the middle of a fight – revealing volumes into their relationship. By the time the curtain (metaphorically) fell, I felt satisfied with the conclusion…or lack thereof, but sad to leave the world so detailed and lovingly created by Tennessee Williams and brought to life by Sarah Esdalie.  
I don’t know my arse from my elbow when it comes to the techniques used on stage or behind the scenes. Whatever the tricks utilised; this was a powerful viewing experience for me. The set and the perfectly chosen soundtrack together transport the viewer to a particular time and place, yet still allow you to reflect on the differences between the actions and responses then and now in a way that only enhances the viewing experience.
It’s a minor tragedy that I won’t be able to attend one more showing before it closes on Saturday. Nevertheless, I shall be mulling over the intricate themes for some time.
My one quibble – some eijit in the audience left their phone turned up. At a tense and vital moment in the second scene – immediately after an on-set phone call, it went off. That was really annoying. Of course it was made worse when the same thing happened (by either the same person or someone with an identical ringtone) in the third segment too!

Afterwards, the Guardian’s Andrew Dickson had organised for a chat with the Director and three chief actors, which I hope to blog about this weekend. 

Visit the West Yorkshire Playhouse HERE
Visit the Cat on a Hot Tin Roof HERE


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