This co-production between English Touring Theatre, Curve Leicester, and Everyman & Playhouse is a bold new revival of Tennessee Williams’ Pulitzer Prize-winning play Cat On A Hot Tin Roof and is currently on stage at the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich.
The story begins on a hot Mississippi night, and the lies are as stifling as the heat. We first meet Maggie, a young woman in her prime who has risen up from poverty, and her husband Brick Pollitt, a former pro footballer who drinks to drown out the hurt he has bottled up inside. Together, they find themselves in a passionless, burning marriage.
Despite their troubles, they put on a brave front and attend Big Daddy’s (Brick’s father) 65th birthday party, where the entire Pollitt family meet; but before long the claws are out and the heat intensifies. Shattering truths begin to spiral out of control, and the family tries to protect themselves, and each other, from falling apart.
It’s a literary classic that comes alive on stage, and it’s lyrical, moving, and witty with strong themes of mendacity, relationships, and alcoholism. I’m the first to admit that my knowledge of plays doesn’t compare to my knowledge of musicals, and this is only my second play of Tennessee Williams’ that I’ve seen (the other being A Streetcar Named Desire, with The Glass Menagerie lined up for next year) but I am fascinated by his dark themes, the depth of his characters and the way he tells stories. He is undoubtedly a very clever writer, and Director Anthony Almeida has done an excellent job in giving new life to an old classic.
As for the cast, Oliver Johnston and Siena Kelly as Brick and Maggie respectively are exceptional. I was transfixed by Oliver’s slow and steady gradual increase in the level of drunkness his character was, as I always think to act drunk, particularly in a drama, must be quite a challenge in making it convincing without being over the top. Yet he nails it down to a fine art. Similarly, Siena’s need to people-please, be desired, and have children is a theme that seems to increase throughout the piece and you find yourself sympathising with her situation. The supporting cast also gives powerful performances, and I felt almost envious of Sam Alexander as Gooper as he spent half of Act 1 eating cake with his hands until his character came alive in Act 2 to fire up the family drama.
The start first act is somewhat slow in pace, but the increased intensity towards the latter part of act one and throughout act two makes it worth sticking with. It’s a fascinating glaze at matters of life and death, and what happens as a result of that. It’s a well-written and cleverly crafted classic and bound to be enjoyed by all who enjoy dramas.
Cat On A Hot Tin Roof runs at the New Wolsey Theatre until Saturday 16th October. For more information or tickets: www.wolseytheatre.co.uk/shows/cat-on-a-hot-tin-roof.
The show continues on tour to Theatr Clwyd (19-23 Oct) and MAST Studios, Southampton (26-30 Oct) – for more information check out ett.org.uk/our-work/cat-on-a-hot-tin-roof.