Though voted one of the most significant plays of the 20th century, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof seems an odd choice for revival at the Nottingham Playhouse, where recently we’ve been treated to rather more homegrown products, such as an homage to the late Brian Clough. However, on the play's 50th anniversary, Richard Baron’s production feels as close to home as ever, thanks to its timeless, transatlantic relevance.
In a Mississippi plantation house on Big Daddy’s 65th birthday, favourite son Brick drinks to forget his life. His childless, sexually frustrated wife Maggie prepares herself for the party, desperately recalling memories of days gone by. With everyone concealing news of a fatal cancer from the father and his wife, the family come to terms with his imminent death and try to put things in order - especially his finances.
Brick (Dugald Bruce-Lockhart) and Maggie (Lesley Harcourt) both fulfil the need for well-toned, beautiful actors; Southern tans a standard, of course. Harcourt’s dominant opening scene, likening herself to the titular cat on a hot tin roof, succeeds in being an arousing introduction to what is, essentially, an empty, desperate woman, and it’s this quality she assertively performs.
As Brick, Bruce-Lockhart doesn’t quite pose enough threat to drive Maggie to the ‘catty’ behaviour she’s known for – the extent of his torture is chasing her round the room on his crutch – but a touching scene with Big Daddy (Aaron Shirley) makes up for an otherwise background performance elsewhere; his story is engrossing and well told.
In a supporting lead, Christine Absalom excels as the bumbling, doting housewife Big Mama with a healthy dose of laughter. Later, when she eventually faces the truth that her husband is close to death, we’re exposed to a real dignity in an otherwise comedic role. It's in the production’s climax that Baron perhaps directs too much for laughs, but I’m sure its natural rhythm will emerge as the run matures.
Edward Lipscomb’s exquisite, towering design is a treat, as is Jeanine Davies’ lighting projecting tall, imposing blinds. Ultimately, this is a clear, accessible production, which - despite needing some room to breathe - builds into a genuinely touching drama.
- Jake Brunger (reviewed at the Nottingham Playhouse)