Christopher Walker reviews the Young Vic’s production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof now streaming.
Theatre doesn’t get much better than this. A sharp, well-defined production with a starry cast, that effortlessly brings to life Tennessee Williams’ excellent writing.
Sienna Miller and Colm Meaney give perhaps the best performances of their careers.
For those missing the inside of a theatre – the Young Vic’s production is well worth the effort to stream.
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is one of Tennessee Williams’s greatest plays. Like all his works it is highly autobiographical.
Elia Kazan, a theatre director Williams worked closely with, once said “everything in his life is in his plays, and everything in his plays is in his life.”
Williams grew up in a Mississippi family of Tennessee heritage, torn apart by alcoholism and mental illness.
His own gayness was a constant source of tension, and he eventually escaped, joyously, to the world of New York theatre.
Set on a sprawling 28,000-acre plantation in Mississippi, “the best agricultural land west of the Nile Delta” appropriately downstream from Memphis, the play deals with a dysfunctional wealthy planter family.
In true Southern style, they are all known by nicknames.
‘Big Daddy’ rules with a rod of iron, but cancer is loosening his grip. He has two sons – one he adores, the alcoholic drop-out Brick, the other he despises Gooper.
Each of them has ambitious scheming wives, Maggie (“the Cat”) and Mae Flynn, ‘Sister Woman.’
Readers may well be familiar with these characters from the movie. This used the original Broadway Big Daddy, a perfect Burl Ives, and cast him opposite two great stars of the time – Paul Newman and Elizabeth Taylor.
If so, it is worth acquainting yourself with the original play, which in the film version was deprived of a lot of its ‘punch’ by the mores of the time.
Williams was horrified that nearly all the gay references were lost, and the criticism of homophobia muted.
He accosted queuing cinema-goers telling them “this movie will set the industry back 50 years. Go home!”
It is hard to imagine anyone equalling Burl Ives’ performance as Big Daddy, but Colm Meaney achieves it.
On TV he played a similar (Irish) patriarch in Gangs of London, but this is a much more nuanced role, and Colm has no problem with the southern drawl.
Less so Jack O’Connell – Brick, who in this production spends a lot of time without his clothes on, often in the shower, no doubt boosting viewer numbers.
The play opens with the camera fixed on his “Jack the Lad” tattoo.
No doubt also attracting viewers is the mesmerizing presence of ex-model and consummate star, Sienna Miller.
She has a string of movie hits to her name – Layer Cake, Alfie, Live by Night, American Woman – but unlike so many movie stars who choose to tread the boards, her on stage acting is top-notch.
She spars marvellously with Sister Woman – a superbly bitchy Hayley Squires, a scion of Forest Hill.
Completing this outstanding female trio is the divine Lisa Palfry as Big Mama, big and busty.
Everything about Benedict Andrews production is slick and chic, as one would expect of the Young Vic.
Magda Willi’s set is simple, but she blew the budget on the awesome backdrop – a shiny metal wall, an homage to the tin roof of the title.
Apart from Big Mama’s perfectly too tight outfit, and Brick’s clinging silk pyjamas, Ms Miller’s sleek evening dress is uber cool – costumes are by Alice Babidge.
All in all, a top night of starry theatre – available on the ntathome.com platform.
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