THE TRANSATLANTIC MAGAZINE
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
By Tennessee Williams
Apollo Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue, London
Reviewed by Jarlath O'Connell
Star Aussie director Benedict Andrews rightly won plaudits for his production of A Streetcar Named Desire at the Young Vic and they've got him back for this, which with two film star leads – Sienna Miller and Jack O'Connell, has gone directly to the West End.
Broadway producers have regularly packaged hot movie stars into revivals of this play but it is less revered here and thankfully so, as it is really showing its age. This starry cast rise to the challenge of giving life to the often leaden text and glacial pacing but they're not helped by a production which overplays the nudity and is mired with a 'design concept' (an anonymous hotel room in no-period), which smothers it.
Directors love to pretend that nudity is somehow intrinsic to their concept, when one suspects all they're doing is listening to the chime of the till. Here, O'Connell takes more showers than a porn star whilst Miller slinks around like a Victoria's Secret model.
The story of a nouveau riche clan in the Mississippi Delta angling for their inheritance from an ailing 'Big Daddy' is the stuff of daytime soap. The other strand is the tormented sexuality of Brick, an ex-football pro now turned bitter alcoholic. This was hot stuff in 1955 but much more difficult to frame today.
Miller gamely survives the virtual monologue that is the first act and brings a seductive feistiness to her role while O'Connell's charisma helps rescue his one-note character. Hindered by a crutch (in the script), Magda Willi's design then requires him to constantly lean down to the floor to refill his whisky and retrieve ice, from a bag. The single golden set slowly accumulates various detritus, which seems to be the default mode for modern re-imaginings. This is a text which would fare better by being rooted in some sort of a realistic depiction of the American South in the 1950s but here the set hobbles the cast and distracts the audience.
A great cast does rescue it. Colm Meaney succeeds in humanising the usually boorish Big Daddy and his big scene with Brick has the sole nub of truth. Hayley Squires (so great in I Daniel Blake) does wonders too with the grasping sister-in-law Mae, mother of the 'no neck monsters' and poor Lisa Palfrey struggles to give a vampish Big Mama some dignity whilst being stuffed into a bling micro skirt.
The production may have lots of ideas but few of them have anything to do with the play.