Wednesday, 2 August 2017
Cat On A Hot Tin Roof at The Apollo Theatre
Sitting in the Dress Circle (as I’m a Stall’s snob, this was not ideal) concern was my first thought during the first ten or so minutes of Tennessee William’s 1955 play. Not concern for the production per se, but for the fact that much of what Maggie (the very feline Sienna Miller) was saying to her completely disinterested husband, Brick (the excellent Jack O’Connell) was being lost to me. Although the set in no way resembles an old Mississippi Delta plantation house, the accents are fully rooted in the Deep South, which was part of my problem. Once I’d got my ear fully attuned, everything was fine and to a large extent I thoroughly enjoyed Benedict Andrew’s modern take on this fine American Classic.
Magda Willi’s set, a mixture of gold walls, black furniture and matching black satin sheets is reminiscent of a confined, soulless hotel room and an ultra trendy one at that, with the shower part of the bedroom. Could this be a ploy for us being privy to a sustained view of a naked and, I have to say, extremely fit Mr. O’Connell? In any event, I’m not complaining and after the initial impact of seeing him sitting under the showerhead, baring all when the play opens, by the end of Act One, one almost forgets he’s not fully clothed.
The bedroom in question is based in the house belonging to Big Daddy (Colm Meaney) and Big Mama (Lisa Palfrey), Brick’s parents. Brick and Maggie, along with Brick’s brother Gooper (Brian Gleeson), his wife Mae (Hayley Squires) plus their five children (and one on the way) are staying here, ostensibly to celebrate Big Daddy’s birthday. But there is another reason, especially where Gooper and Mae are concerned. The birthday coincides with Big Daddy’s return from a clinic where he’s been undergoing tests for cancer. Whilst the two parents believe these tests have come back negative, their offspring know that he is dying. Who is to inherit? Will it be Big Daddy’s favourite son, retired football player, Brick, or lawyer, Gooper, who has proved his masculinity by siring six children? And there’s the rub. Maggie and Brick are childless and likely to remain so, because Maggie can no longer get her husband to sleep with her.
Despite much cajoling, flirting and, at one time even crawling on all fours in the manner of a cat on heat, Maggie fails to elicit any flicker of interest from her husband. His interest lies in drinking himself into oblivion, or at least until he reaches “the click” in his head. That and mourning the death of his dead friend, Skipper. Brick is a true alcoholic, highlighted not only by his complete indifference to everything apart from the next glass of whisky, but by the fact that there are four bottles of the stuff lined up in a row downstage next to a bag of ice. But did he have a gay relationship with his friend? When confronted with the insinuation, he vehemently denies that anything physical took place. Unlike Maggie, who admits to seducing her husband’s friend, obviously the cause of Brick’s iciness towards her and possibly the reason for Skipper’s suicide.
Sienna Miller is perfect for the role of Maggie. Sexy to a fault, with a body to die for, she is also able to convey the insecurity of a woman who realises her husband no longer desires her and the desperation and ambition of one who longs to have a child if only to produce an heir for Big Daddy’s fortune.
Although Jack O’Connell’s accent isn’t as assured as Miller’s, he makes a completely believable alcoholic in his role of Brick. And this is no one-note performance. During his bitter head to head with his father, he turns into a deeply sympathetic character.
Colm Meaney is suitably crass as the boastful Big Daddy, constantly referring to the extent of his great wealth whilst puffing on a huge cigar. The ultimate domineering alpha male, disgusted not only by his brash, unsophisticated wife, who keeps her Iphone down the not inconsiderable cleavage of her gaudy frock, but also by his “no neck monster” grandchildren.
Benedict Andrew’s production is, for the most part, a plausible portrayal of William’s play that examines mendacity and lies, I’m just not wholly convinced by the modern day setting. Although the constant use of mobile phones and music blasting forth from iPads works perfectly well, the heavy hint of hidden homosexuality doesn’t. Nowadays there is no need to be so reticent about discussing such matters, so the gay shame felt by Brick rather loses its bite. Also the constant interruption by the five shrieking grandchildren, rather than helping to insert a little light relief into what is a very wordy play, hinders the action and exasperated me just as much as it does Big Daddy.