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Did critics stroke or skin Cat on a Hot Tin Roof?

Sienna Miller and Jack O'Connell star in Benedict Andrews' revival of Tennessee Williams' masterpiece


Holly Williams, WhatsOnStage


"Williams' 1955 play, set on a plantation on the Mississippi Delta, updates surprisingly easily, offering a vision of present-day macho America where male dominance is fragile. The men are in denial: alcoholic Brick won't sleep with his ravenous wife Maggie, but vehemently denies any sexual feelings for his dead friend Skipper."

"Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is a long wordy play of misfiring discussions about tortured sexual impulses and power struggles over family inheritance. To work, it needs electricity, a shock of brutal humour; this too often drags."

"Magda Willi's set has impact: the bedroom is a sloping platform in front of a high wall of golden metal panels, gorgeously lit by Jon Clark. But if the production's going for a sort of stylised take, why worry so much about the Southern accents? These hamper almost everyone onstage, a barrier to the truth of the lines. Or maybe that's being generous."

"Sienna Miller's accent may swoop, but the entire first half feels one-note, her part rattled through. She skates over the lines, rather than pouncing on meaning, while Jack O'Connell gives her nothing to work with. Sure, Brick is taciturn, depressed, distant… but this is just very dry."

Ann Treneman, The Times


"This Tennessee Williams play needs not just to feel as hot as the American South on a summer's day, it needs to sizzle.

"Miller as Maggie provides exactly that in the first half, bursting into the bedroom she shares with her husband, Brick, who is in the shower, naked except for his glass of whiskey. 'Brick,' she purrs, 'I'm a cat'."

"There is something splendidly decadent about this production of Williams's great claustrophobic play about family secrets and lies, or mendacity as they like to say down south, very slowly, in that rhythmic seductive drawl."

"O'Connell comes out of his stupor just in time in the second half as he is confronted by his father, Big Daddy, superbly played by a blustering Colm Meaney."

"There are also two stand-out performances from Lisa Palfrey as Big Mama, bursting out of the worst party dress ever, and Hayley Squires as Mae, the scheming sister-in-law whose main claim to fame is the ability to have children. 'Lil monsters!' says Maggie, spitting out the words, owning the stage until the very end."

Fiona Mountford, Evening Standard


"Slinky, seductive in black slip and killer stilettos and coiled with nervous energy, Maggie prowls around the bedroom, talking almost uninterrupted for the entire first act about her loveless, and now sex-less, marriage. It's a big ask of any performer and Miller turns in a faultless performance."

"Brick is a tricky part. Interested in nothing so much as his next drink, this character is an absence, but a very present absence all the same and it's a tightrope walk that O'Connell, with an unstable American accent, doesn't quite manage."

"There's more uncertainty around Magda Willi's design, which looks like a slickly anonymous hotel room rather than a bedroom in Big Daddy's large plantation house in the Mississippi Delta. The production has been updated, to no discernible benefit, and now looks awkwardly stuck in an odd no-time zone. Miller, though, like that eponymous feline, clings on fiercely to the very end."

Natasha Tripney, The Stage


"Andrews has chosen to locate this play, in which truth is so elusive, in a world of gleaming surfaces and extremities of wealth. Designer Magda Willi has coated the stage in gold. It is ravishingly lit by Jon Clark, and Alice Babidge's costumes appear to be composed almost entirely of satin and sequins – the bratty ‘no-neck' offspring of Big Daddy's other son, the grasping Gooper, wear little red ties. We're not quite in Trump Tower, but if Nigel Farage were to stroll out of an elevator, I doubt anyone would blink."

"A chrome shower-head occupies a central position on stage, to better facilitate the various scenes in which Brick strips, exposing his body instead of his soul. Maggie also removes her clothes. This is a production that revels in skin."

Quentin Letts, Daily Mail


"The core plot material about disapproval of homosexuality (Brick is secretly gay), which would have made sense in the 1950s, is hobbled by the modern setting."

"Of the supporting cast, several seem distinctly un-American. Lisa Palfrey's Big Mama, hiding her mobile in her deep cleavage, is a successful creation, as is Hayley Squires's Mae, but a visiting clergyman (Michael J. Shannon) resembles a West Country solicitor and Colm Meaney, though a gifted performer, is in no way a Mississippi plantation owner."

"Miller likes to complain about newspapers' coverage of her life, insisting that she is more than a mere celebrity pin-up. I am not sure this performance quite clinches her case. She is a reasonable but hardly first-rate actress."

"Her voice is echoey to the point of inaudibility. Her Maggie keeps smiling weakly, which hardly seems feline."

Dominic Cavendish, The Telegraph


"There are plenty of different ways to skin Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Tennessee Williams' 1955 masterpiece of marital, familial and sexual dysfunction down in Mississippi but I've never seen one that goes at it with such kit-off abandon."

"When Paul Newman and Elizabeth Taylor starred in the 1958 film as Brick and 'Maggie the cat' – the latter consciously childless, sexually frustrated and determined to counter the condescension of Brick's ever-breeding brother and his wife – their brooding good-looks [were] considered the height of raciness. What we see here, which includes Miller slipping off her black negligee in a forlorn attempt to tantalise her indifferent hubby with her breasts, could hardly give Williams more overt sex-appeal."

"Is it gratuitous? Andrews made a splash a few years ago at the Young Vic (who are backing this show) with a production of A Streetcar Named Desire that spun Gillian Anderson's Blanche DuBois round on a slow-revolving carousel; his forte is peeling back layers. For all the flesh on display here, arousal is off the menu; states of mind are hard to fathom."

"I came ready and willing to write this off as mere summer filler. But it's well acted, stylishly presented and very nicely, erm, tackled: preferred over nine out of ten Cats, you might say."

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof runs at the Apollo Theatre until 7 October.

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