I’ll be the first to admit I don’t read into plays too much before I book tickets. I’m sold after a brief glance over a plot overview or a stand-out performer on the cast list. Sometimes, if a show has received a string of five-star ratings, I’ll even book tickets without having a clue what it’s about.
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof was different, because Cat on a Hot Tin Roof was written by Tennessee Williams. It was just several months ago (seven, to be precise), when I fell in love with Williams’ The Glass Menagerie, so it wasn’t a case of waiting to discover how many stars the show would receive; if he wrote it, I had to see it.
And so it was with high expectations that I entered the Apollo, confident in a cast list which was inclusive of Sienna Miller, Jack O’Connell and Colm Meaney.
The striking thing about this performance, however, wasn’t the new take on Williams’ characters; it was the direction in which director, Benedict Andrews, had taken the 1955 play. In a modernisation which caused mixed feelings among audiences, we see husband and wife Brick (O’Connell) and Maggie (Miller) holed up in their room with little but a shower and several bottles of whiskey to distract them from the tensions in their relationship – both of which Brick turns to frequently.
It’s quite clear that something’s eating away at Brick; he’s sullen, serious, and forever on the defensive, not to mention a self-confessed alcoholic. Maggie unabashedly showers Brick with unwanted sexual advances, telling him how desperate she is to have a child, yet he keeps rejecting her. Could this be because he’s drowning in regret over his failure to reveal his true feelings to good friend, Skipper, before he died? Brick denied that he had any romantic feelings for Skipper years ago; in doing so, did he deny himself of what he really wanted?
Act One is dominated by Miller and O’Connell, baring the trials and tribulations of Brick and Maggie’s broken marriage for all to see, behaving as no-one would outside of the comfort of their own four walls. Walls which, in this instance, are ironically golden.
Act Two shifts the focus onto the relationship between Brick and his father, referred to as Big Daddy (Colm Meaney). He doesn’t yet know it, but Big Daddy is dying and that’s perhaps the thing that terrifies him most.
Of the three lead performers, I felt it was Miller who gave the best performance, with her simpering, Southern belle tongue and her ability to show the vulnerabilities that lie behind such a headstrong character. She featured very little in Act Two and, I have to say, the second half was severely lacking without her.
When it comes to O’Connell, I certainly admire his confidence on stage; when lights go up at the start of the show, they reveal O’Connell sat naked in the shower and this isn’t a one-time thing. Many asked the question: was it necessary? Perhaps not. Did he deliver with complete professionalism? Absolutely. Who knows, maybe these scenes will pave the way towards making nudity on stage less of a taboo.
His American accent, on the other hand, was a slightly different story and, although he was convincing at times, there were too many moments when I could detect his native undertones.
All in all, I can’t say that this production blew me away, despite some huge talent being involved in its creation. While I’m all for modern theatre, I feel that Cat on a Hot Tin Roof was maybe one best left in the past – not literally, but certainly in terms of the production concept.
Approx. running time: 2 hour 45 mins