Monday, 21 March 2016

Review: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

Company: Theatr Clwyd

Venue: Swansea Grand Theatre
Date & Time: Thursday 17th March, 7.30pm

Writer: Tennessee Williams
Director: Robert Hastie

Tennessee Williams once said “Words are a net to catch beauty” – I know this because I've been on a bit of an information kick since watching the play, which is testament in itself. The man himself is quite an interesting character.

If words are the net to catch beauty, then 'Cat on a Hot Tin Roof' covers the whole pond. So many words.  Words can reveal and illuminate, or they can obscure and distort, burying issues beneath lies or mundanity - sometimes we say so much, yet say nothing all.

This is my first dip into the plays of Tennessee Williams, so before this I knew little about him or his work. All I knew about this play was that it's considered a ‘great American classic’. I didn't even realise it had been turned into a film many moons ago, starring Elizabeth Taylor – I know, shocking, but remember my theatrical education until recent years has been solidly based in musical theatre.  Even during my actual theatre education, the syllabus focussed more on physical and experimental theatre.

We join Maggie and her incapacitated husband, Brick, in their bedroom as they get ready for the birthday of patriarch, Big Daddy. The set, designed by Janet Bird, portrays the families vast wealth with chandeliers, four poster beds and balconies and the gently whirring fans in the upstage corridor, set the balmy southern location of their Southern plantation family home.

It is up to Catrin Stewart as Maggie to set the tone, almost solo, which she does expertly – her southern drawl so real, that at times I have to use all my concentration to understand. Brick, played by Torchwood's Gareth David-Lloyd, lurks about the set moodily, glaring, blank and unemotional ahead, into a void as he gulps down drink after drink – Maggie talks at him, but he barely seems to hear her. He makes occasional interjections, but it's a monologue from Maggie for the first 20 minutes or so, where she moans about the 'no-neck monsters' (the kids) of Bricks brother, Gooper, eventually revealing her true message – her personal misery of Brick's lack of desire for her and, consequently, having no children of their own.

All the rest of the family seem to know Maggie's troubles and all pitch in their unsolicited advice, but there are many more lies and secrets that plague this family. One of which being the metaphor itself - Big Daddy has terminal cancer, unbeknown to himself and his wife, Big Mama.

Desmond Barrit's presence as Big Daddy is powerful, heavy and ominous. It is in his scenes with David-Lloyd that pulse at the heart of this production, as he slowly breaks through the dam and forces him to communicate. Where most characters create a lot of noise, Brick – as his name so perfectly suggests - remains still and silent. His scene with Big Daddy lets some of that emotion filter through, as he's forced to confront guilt and repressed sexuality.

The play closes on yet another lie – Maggie tells Big Daddy that she is pregnant and vows to Brick that she will make it true, and I the circle of mendacity is doomed to continue.

Williams's work is incredibly intriguing to me. This production was not an easy watch, but if you want that, go see one of the numerous cover bands that frequent the theatre's programme. If you want a deep, intelligent play with lots of meat on its bones, packed full of themes, both blatant and underlying, then you couldn't go far wrong with this. I will certainly be seeking out more productions from Tennessee Williams's back catalogue now that I've discovered his work.

Thank you Theatre Clwyd for your compelling and thoughtful production – it deserved a much bigger audience than it received on the Thursday evening production which I saw, and I cannot commend the cast highly enough for giving it their all, none-the-less.  

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