Theatre review: Cat On A Hot Tin Roof

Posted on: 17 December 2009 by Mark O'haire

Laurence Green reviews Tennessee Williams’ great drama at the Novello Theatre.

A searing study of a family imploding on denial and continual power struggles - between truth and lies and love and disgust - is provided by Tennessee Williams in his great drama Cat On A Hot Tin Roof which reaches London (Novello Theatre) hotfoot from Broadway with an all black cast directed by Debbie Allen.

On a 28,000 acre plantation in Mississippi, a powerful Southern family gathers for the 65th birthday celebration for patriarch Big Daddy who does not know he is dying of cancer. In a scramble to secure their part of his estate, family members hide the truth about his diagnosis from him and Bib Mama. Tensions mount between alcoholic former football hero Brick and his alluring but sexually frustrated wife Maggie ‘the Cat’. As their troubled relationship comes to a stormy and steamy climax, a shockwave of secrets is finally revealed.

Despite what its theme night might suggest this is not a depressing drama but a play brimming with emotional intensity and insightful wit. Indeed there is real pain behind the laughter. The updating of the story to the early 1980s emphases the timeless nature of the work.

Allen extracts terrific performances from her first rate cast, in particular Adrian Lester as the sullen son Brick who reveals deep self-loathing following the death of his beloved friend, Skipper, and cares little for his wife Maggie, yet appears shackled to her, Sanaa Lathan as the sultry Maggie, desperate to have a child, Peter De Jersey as the aspirational older son, plotting to get his hands on his father’s considerable legacy, Nina Sosanya, as his bitchy wife, and a regal Phylicia Rashad as the long suffering Big Mama.

But best of all and giving a truly outstanding performance is veteran Hollywood and Broadway star James Early Jones who brings a massive gravity to his role as the formidable, expletive-splitting Big Daddy, disgruntled with his kin but benign in his dealings with Brick, and revealing a vulnerability beneath the tough exterior.

Morgan Large’s airy, sunlit Southern mansion looks authentic and enhances the realism of the drama.

This indeed is a production to set the West End alight!

By Laurence Green

Where: Novello Theatre

When: booking until 10 April 2010

Box Office: 0844 482 5170

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