Cat on a Hot Tin Roof



Australian director Benedict Andrews is known for his theatre productions of works by Shakespeare, Jean Genet and Chekhov.  In 2014, his stage version of Tennessee Williams’ STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE was filmed and released as a movie of the actual stage play.  It featured Gillian Anderson in the Blanche DuBois role and garnered some good reviews.  Now in 2018, Andrews again, under the auspices of the National Theatre, has had a stage performance of CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF from London’s Apollo Theatre filmed and released for movie audiences.  Because it is the play filmed live and there is an intermission in the three hour, fifteen minute show, for a lot of the time the viewer does feel they are actually in a theatre watching live stage actors perform.


CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF is a superb play by Williams and its legacy is vast due to both its 1955 Pulitzer Prize win and the famous, six Oscar-nominated 1958 film adaptation.  Williams drenched this work in themes of greed, superficiality, social mores, thwarted sexual desire, mendacity, decay, emotional repression and encroaching mortality.  


So how does this new take by Benedict Andrews shape up? Well he kept religiously to the William’s script (and so he should) but I had a problem with the updating of the era.


The family use cell phones and iPads and the decor and furnishings are quite modern so it is very much of today, presumably in an endeavor to make it more relevant to younger audiences.  But the original dialogue absolutely belongs to the often stifling mindsets of life in the Mississippi Delta in the 1950’s.  This creates a disconnect between play and production.  The key element of the drama is the reason why Brick is a total alcoholic, hell bent on self-destruction and unable to partake in a sex life with his wife. The unspoken, unacknowledged feelings for his dead friend Skipper, coupled with a devastating guilt made total sense in that milieu in the 1950’s.  For the favorite son of an alpha male like Big Daddy, and an ex champion football player, in that place at that time, the notion of homosexuality would be anathema and repulsive.  Thus the tortured mind of Brick and his interactions with his wife and father make perfect sense.  But in 2018, when same-sex marriage is virtually legal in many Western countries and public attitudes have softened considerably, it really does not ring true to the same extent.


But apart from that I enjoyed the film / play a lot.  Andrews has captured the vital combination of high emotional intensity with a leavening humor and his cast, in the main, acquit themselves well.  Jack O’Connell perfectly portrays the obsessiveness of the true alcoholic, his attention utterly locked on the four whiskey bottles sitting on the stage and he has the completely inward focus of a man whose private world is a living hell.  


At times, his southern accent slipped into an almost Irish brogue but his take on Brick was strong.  Colm Meaney’s Big Daddy was faultless, uniting the red-necked Mississippi vulgarity and overbearing bluster of a man used to getting his own way with the fear and uncertainty of his looming death.  Lisa Palfrey’s Big Mama (now overweight and mini-skirted) was also good.  Brian Gleeson (son of Brendan) as the stolid Gooper and Hayley Squires as his loud and hungrily acquisitive wife Mae with their brood of ‘no neck monster’ children provide welcome levity here and there. 


Sienna Miller is a young actress with a broad range and clever nuances in her work and she brings those skills and more to Maggie the Cat, although I did find that her voice was less effective than her body language.  Maggie is a survivor and a fighter.  Faced with what seems a permanently collapsed marriage and the likelihood of Gooper inheriting ‘28,000 acres of the richest land this side of the valley Nile’ leaving her to relative poverty and solitude while Brick drinks himself into the grave, she flat out refuses to accept defeat.  Somehow she must convince Brick to come to terms with his pain, dry out and start living again.


Tough call, but if anyone can manage it – Maggie the Cat is just the girl to do it.   



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