For those of you mourning the loss of the constant parade of flesh that was on display throughout ITV’s summer hit “Love Island,” there may be a perfect remedy in store in the form of the latest West End revival of Tennessee Williams’ 1955 classic Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Never has the enduring little phrase “Sex Sells” rang more true than here, with respect to casting and directorial decisions. And yes, seeing high-profile leading actors Sienna Miller and Jack O’Connell literally bare all on stage is bound to put a few more bums on the seats of the Apollo Theatre.
The last time director Benedict Andrews directed a Williams classic for the Young Vic was his 5-star, ground-breaking interpretation of ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ starring the uber-talented Gillian Anderson in 2014. This Young Vic production – aided by the aforementioned star power – has opened directly in the West End and although it doesn’t quite have the same impact as Andrews’ Streetcar, it nevertheless offers a stylish and stylised take on one of the best plays ever written, exploring family dysfunction, as well as sexual tension, frustration and orientation issues.
At only 50 minutes long, Act I seems to fly by and is strangely, simultaneously, a bit of a slow burner. Aside from the infrequent interruption, it relies on Miller (as Maggie) and O’Connell (as Brick) to ignite and hold our interest. Both actors are well cast, in terms of looking the part, and because Miller is actually nine years older than O’Connell, it is refreshing to see that particular male-female constellation on stage. Sadly, their Mississippi accents don’t always flow which occasionally distracts from their otherwise appealingly brittle performances. However, after the interval and the introduction of Colm Meaney as Big Daddy, the production truly begins to sizzle. Meaney gives a commanding master class, especially during the extended dialogue with Brick. Prior to this, the look on his face as his five, bratish grandchildren proceed to butter him up with a Birthday song is amusingly priceless.
There are some fascinating directorial choices too. Big Daddy’s birthday cake remains centre stage throughout the majority of Act II and Act III with its candles burning dangerously low, perhaps symbolising the imminent demise of the cancer-stricken 65-year old. By the end of the show, said cake is ravaged and scattered across the stage during the implosion of the Pollitt family.
The play is set in modern times, complete with mobile phones, iPads and surround sound systems, and the stage is surrounded by dull, gold-plated exterior and contains expensive-but-soulless furniture. The whole image resembles a prison cell for the nouveau riche. The only problem here is that the level of disgust Brick protests at the notion of homosexuality comes across somewhat dated in today’s Western society. While that’s a great thing for human beings – 50 years on from the decriminalisation of homosexuality – it leaves a big, question mark over this production.
Tellingly, the lead actors are left stark naked as the lights go out, bookending this Cat on a Hot Tin Roof in nudity. Arguably gratuitous, but undeniably playing to its strengths.