Cat on a Hot Tin Roof review
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
By Tennessee Williams
West Yorkshire Playhouse (Quarry Theatre)
Dir. Sarah Esdaile
Perf. Zoe Boyle, Jamie Parker, Richard Cordery, Amanda Boxer
This play has one of the most beautiful sets I have ever seen. It consists of a large bedroom with a narrow balcony around three sides of the room and the entire set is surrounded with shallow dark brown water. The set is slightly tilted so that, on the corner, the balcony is submerged in a few inches of water making the room appear to be sinking into the Mississippi delta.
Zoe Boyle plays Maggie with fire, charm and charisma, carrying the play seemingly effortlessly throughout the first act with a lilting voice and graceful feline movement; and convincingly moving across the emotional spectrum throughout the play, displaying Maggie’s childishness and insecurities beautifully as well as an almost maternal concern for her husband as he becomes increasingly incapacitated by drink. Maggie’s husband, Brick (Jamie Parker), is also on stage for almost the entire first act, spending a large amount of time either not speaking at all or answering his wife monosyllabically. In each of the several plays that I have seen him in, Jamie Parker has proved that he is an exceptional reactor, capable of commanding the stage merely with his presence. His performance is compelling from relaxing on the bed to flinging whisky glasses across the room, from threatening Maggie with his crutch to lying comatose on the porch. As the first act becomes more intense, Jamie Parker makes up for what Brick lacks in speech with physical movement, flinching as if Maggie’s words are physical blows. But even when deliberately ignoring Maggie, he is always doing something. After seeing the show, I saw a wonderful comment on twitter referring to a section from the third act as being Jamie Parker’s masterclass in how to steal a scene whilst lying down outside of the action of the play and only moving three fingers. Jamie Parker is also an extremely charming and charismatic performer which makes it absolutely believable that, no matter how badly Brick treats her, no other man will do for Maggie.
As Big Daddy, Richard Cordery takes the play up to a new level in the second act. He dominates the stage completely with a brashness and vulgarity as he bullies his wife and older son and combines this attitude flawlessly with a very touching softer side to his nature as he confronts Brick with a palpable level of concern about his son’s welfare and drinking habits. Seeing two performers such as Jamie Parker and Richard Cordery going head to head during the confrontation in the second act was always going to be very exciting and Parker matches Cordery perfectly, creating an extraordinary intensity between the two characters. My one criticism of this scene is that it all took place too far upstage. Even with the liquor cabinet being upstage, I feel that the rawness and emotional intensity would have been enhanced if parts of the scene could have been moved closer to the audience. For the confrontation to take place at the back of the cavernous space, almost as far away from the audience as it is possible to get on this stage, and behind several pieces of furniture made it feel too distant and protected.
Simon Roberts as Reverend Tooker provides some much needed comic relief, as does the wonderful Amanda Boxer as Big Mama. Boxer also plays the tragedy of her character beautifully, earning sympathy as a well-meaning, albeit ridiculous, figure who we can plainly see does not stand a chance up against her vulgar bully of a husband who openly despises her.
There are many larger than life characters in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and they are played as such in this production. The result of this is that Brick, despite the sudden bursts of temper, becomes the calm centre of the play; palpably aware of how ridiculous most of his family are, he becomes the onstage eyes of the audience as he watches the other characters in silence with a mix of amusement and eye-rolling exasperation. This position also occurs as he is frequently physically still, he moves consciously away from the action in the third act and tunes out the screams and cries of the world around him, ending up humming ‘By the Light of the Silvery Moon’ and dancing around in the water on the balcony as the family drama becomes more heated indoors. I felt that Brick becoming the touchstone of the play in this way ensured that he was always likeable, never fully encompassing the nihilism or active negativity often associated with the character. However, I did not feel that this was of any significant detriment to the production as these characteristics were still present as undertones. One moment in which Brick’s boredom and nihilism were more clearly visible occurred as he openly enjoyed watching a vicious argument between his mother and brother, giggling in the background and chipping in with comments.
The director Sarah Esdaile decides to leave no doubt at all that Brick is a full-blown alcoholic and he is drinking continually throughout the play, consuming a remarkable amount of liquor which led to a gasp of horror from the audience as he downed several large glasses in a matter of seconds. As well as the room sinking into water, Esdaile also uses the set to display the breakdown which occurs throughout the play by dissolving the wall between the bedroom and the balcony in the third act, with Zoe Boyle and Jamie Parker walking straight through where the wall had supposedly been for the entire play several times.
This is a long play, three hours including two intervals between the acts, but it never drags at all and I am very glad that I decided to make the trip to Leeds to see it.
© Rachel Stewart, 2012