Cat on a Hot Tin Roof Review 2001

Average press rating: 
Wednesday, 19 September, 2001
Review by: 
Darren Dalglish

This Tennessee Williams’s classic is brilliantly produced at the Lyric theatre on Shaftsbury Avenue. Directed by Anthony Page, you’ll probably never see a better production of this great drama.

The play is set at the plantation home of Big Daddy, in the Mississippi Delta in the 1950s. The story concerns Brick, an ex-sportsman who has become an alcoholic after the death of his best friend Skipper. He no longer sleeps with his wife Maggie, and spends most of his time depressed and solemn, refusing to talk about his anxiety. Maggie though tries to seduce him so as to have a child, but he does not wish to make love to her, in fact he would be happy for her to find a lover or leave him. To make matters worse Big Daddy is dying of cancer. And with Big Daddy dying some of the members of his wealthy Southern family are driven by greed for a share in his estate.

As in most William’s plays it does take some time to get going and this is no exception, so someone seeing this drama for the first time may find it ‘boring’ to begin with but if you stick with it it will draw you in with its skilful story and rich characters. If you know this play then you’ll be mesmerised from the start!

Hollywood film star Brendan Fraser, who is making his West End stage debut, is a convincing Brick. He is stupendous when he finally erupts and reveals his torment and grief, particularly to those close to him who suspect he may be a homosexual. Frances O’Connor is a fine ‘Maggie’, who tries desperately to seduce Brick in order to have a child, which would please Big Daddy. However, it is Ned Beatty as Big Daddy and Gemma Jones as ‘Big Mama’ that are the stars. They have a strong presence, which perfectly captures this dominant American family. Ned Beatty is particularly exceptional and steals the show in the act when when forcing Brick to open up. There are also fine performances from Clive Carter as Bricks brother Gooper and Abigail McKern as Gooper’s wife Mae, who grovel to Big Daddy and demean Brick and Maggie in a hope of securing his estate.

The production has received good notices from the popular press.. NICHOLAS DE JONGH for THE EVENING STANDARD says, “Anthony Page's meticulous production, although occasionally a little soft- edged and sentimental, guides this Cat on a Hot Tin Roof to an astonishingly powerful crisis.” He goes on to say, “Cat remains, in terms of its theatrical appeal, real hot stuff.” CHARLES SPENCER for THE DAILY TELEGRAPH says, “It is a mighty piece, passionate, tragic, angry, frank, deeply personal and utterly compelling". MICHAEL BILLINGTON for THE GUARDIAN says, “Rare but welcome London revival.” He goes on to say, “This is a production that captures well the passion and power of the state of Tennessee.” PAUL TAYLOR for THE INDEPENDENT says, “The claws are still sharp.” SHERIDAN MORLEY for TELETEXT says, “It’s a great domestic gothic Melodrama.” BENEDICT NIGHTINGALE for THE TIMES says, "There are some fine performances to be found inside Maria Björnson’s majestic set, with its high white struts, its columns and its Spanish moss." JOHN PETER for THE SUNDAY TIMES says, " The most thrilling and distinguished accounts of a modern classic the West End has seen in years."

Lasting 3 hours with 2 intervals this is a great production of a great play. No Tennessee Williams’ fan should not miss it.


Links to full reviews from newspapers...
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Next review by Tom Keatinge

Nov 2001

With so much comedy and fluff currently blowing through the West End, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, at the Lyric Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue, offers a perverse sense of relief – at least until the house-lights go down. Tennessee Williams’ play, set in Deep South USA, throws an exhausting diet of family feud and rivalry, broken marriage, death and homosexuality at us. It is hardly surprising that Cat on a Hot Tin Roof was used as a vehicle to challenge the Lord Chamberlain’s censorship authority when it was first published in the 1950s.

Things begin happily enough. A family gathering at the prosperous family estate, a seeming air of happiness and celebration around Big Daddy’s 65th birthday. Yet, quickly the anger and deceit that surrounds the marriage of Brick and his wife Margaret begins to emerge as we learn of his drinking habits, her spurned desire for a child and infidelities. The disintegration of the relationship between the two of them is powerfully portrayed as it is torn apart by Brick’s drinking, and his supposed past love of another man that drove Margaret to sleep with him out of jealousy. On top of this, there is the intense bitterness that exists between Margaret, and Brick’s brother Gooper and his wife, as they compete for inheritance of the family estate brought on by the impending death from cancer of Big Daddy. The end is inevitable, and despite false dawns, the gloom closes in.

Whilst Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is exceptional as a piece of theatre, and for its almost entirely isolated position in a sea of West End comedy at present, it is sadly “me-too” in its employing of yet another Hollywood face, and a B list one at that. With so many brilliantly talented British stage actors at our disposal, why do we have to suffer a continual parade of second-rate “movie stars”. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof enjoyed some great performances, particularly from Ned Beatty, whose portrayal of Big Daddy is powerful and moving, as well as from Frances O’Connor, who is both marvellously vulnerable and yet at times equally forceful and belligerent as Margaret. Sadly Brendan Fraser’s Brick was a disappointing also-ran. His performance seemed strangely lacklustre, free-wheeling through much of the play. Not until the final showdown with his father did he show any sort of acting ability or emotion of note.

That said, this was as powerful and as moving a production as you will find in the West End at the best of times, more than worthy of comparison with the much admired Taylor and Newman film, and with (in the main) a strong cast and a glorious Maria Björnson set. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is definitely a perfect antidote for the current overdose of stuff and nonsense that seems to have affected much of the West End.

Tom Keatinge

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