National Theatre Live presented a recorded live streaming of Tennessee Williams’ 1955 masterpiece ‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof’ at the Pavilion Arts Centre, Buxton.
Australian director Benedict Andrews’ revival gives the play a radical update.
The setting is the celebration of Big Daddy’s 65th birthday on a hot Mississippi night. The action is limited to a gold coated stage, more Trump Tower than Mississippi delta. This, together with contemporary use of mobile phones and iPads, leaves us adrift in time and place, to no great advantage. The play though stays close to Williams’ original, focusing almost brutally on the timeless issues of desire and the conflict between truth and illusion : family relationships unravelling, oppressed by secrets and lies, unfulfilled or forbidden relationships, sex, greed, alcohol and death.
Sienna Miller as Maggie ‘the Cat’ is impressive in the first act, talking almost uninterrupted about her loveless, now sexless, marriage. Jack O’Connell, her alcoholic husband Brick, the emotional centre of the play, who, with few lines, has a harder part, is less compelling. Colm Meaney as Brick’s terminally ill tycoon father, Big Daddy, is excellent. Lisa Palfrey as Big Mama, Hayley Squires as Mae and Brian Gleeson as Gooper give able support.
Throughout emotional intensity is high, as layers of truth and desire are gradually revealed and a bleak reality is laid bare, Brick and Maggie’s naked first and last scenes in contrast with the grotesque sequinned opulence.