Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester
James Dacre’s production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is assured and confident, aided not inconsiderably by Mike Britton’s simultaneously stark and sumptuous set. The oppressive heat of the American Deep South is almost palpable, despite the cold reality of a November evening in Manchester. The lazy whirring of the inevitable ceiling fans and the glare of imagined sunshine from the gloss-white floor combine to create a drunken, languorous atmosphere seething with repressed emotion: the calm that comes before the storm.
Last night’s performances were solid: if Marian Gale (as Maggie) took a while to settle into the rhythm of her desperate stream of words, she made up for it in later scenes, where the raw emotion of unrequited love was beautifully expressed. Big Mama (Kim Cresswell) was a suitably unpleasant recipient for Big Daddy (Daragh O’Malley)’s crass indifference; Matthew Douglas and Victoria Elliott, as Mae and Gooper, provided a welcome respite from the play’s essential brutality, with their obnoxious brood of no-neck singing brats (think Sound of Music without the heartwarming stuff). The scenes where Brick (Charles Aitkin) was lying on the floor at Big Daddy’s feet, helpless without either his literal or his alcoholic crutch, brought home the importance of Williams’s theme: if Brick’s love for Jack Skipper had been allowed to thrive in the open, how much less destructive for all concerned.
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is undoubtedly a miserable play, with little in the way of relief, and this production was certainly not to everybody’s taste last night. Three people sitting behind us left during Act 1 (one of them actually exiting through the set) to go for a cigarette, although they (unlike the couple sitting next to us) did at least return for the second act. Still, somebody in the audience clearly liked it enough to start taking photographs towards the end; the flash was distracting for us in the audience; goodness knows how irritating it was for the actors trying to focus on their lines.
All in all, this was an interesting – if ultimately unexciting – production. A faithful representation of a strange and turbulent play.