NT Live: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof – thought-provoking and unforgettable

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Over the years Tennessee Williams’ masterpieces have been re-read, re-produced and re-appreciated in different ways. Yet, Benedict Andrews has managed to radically update “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” to deliver an intense study of complex human relationships, providing ultimate proof that Williams’ classic is timeless.

Born in Mississippi, often a background in his plays, Tennessee Williams is considered as one of the three foremost playwrights of 20th-century American drama, along with Eugene O-Neill and Arthur Miller. Many of Williams’ most acclaimed works have been adapted for the cinema, with memorable and iconic performances like Marlon Brando as Stanley Kowalski and Vivien Leigh as Blanche DuBois in Elia Kazan’s ‘Streetcar Named Desire’ or Elisabeth Taylor as Maggie and Paul Newman as Brick in Richard Brooks’ ‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof’.

‘Cat’ tells a story of Southern family gathered at their cotton plantation to celebrate Big Daddy’s birthday. The tension rises as every member of the family seems to be stuck in love-hate relationships, supported by the lies they tell. Brick and Maggie can neither talk with each other nor leave. Sexual tension and secrets keep them together and threaten to destroy their marriage at the same time. ‘With the future of the family at stake, which version of the truth is real – and which will win out?’ asks an innovative and powerful version of the play with the faultless Sienna Miller as Maggie and the impressive Jack O’Connell as Brick.

The action is set in a modern and minimalistic bedroom, thoughtfully designed by Magda Willi. The set is dark and with only two pieces of furniture – a bed and a vanity table with a mirror. There’s also an open shower used by Brick, clothed or unclothed, to tune out from the family. Big metallic walls in the back have the colour of money. As Mae (Hayley Squires) and Big Mama (Lisa Palfrey) enter the room with their clothes straight from ‘Dynasty’, they remind of the possible degraded kitsch of ‘the rich and beautiful’, that in are painfully real in this play.

Tennessee Williams didn’t write characters but relationships. In ‘Cat’ they are full of disgust, toxicity, hate and explosiveness but also filled with desire and lust. Andrews has stripped the drama down to the naturalistic animal essence. He asks significant questions about sexuality that is literally stripped (there’s lots of nudity) to the core of human nature.

Thus, ‘Cat’ is a timeless masterpiece. Maggie is a debutant who married into money, first funny and sexy, then desperate to convince her husband to act properly at Big Daddy’s birthday and also to come back to their marital bed. While Brick works hard to separate himself from pain of the past and his own family. Maggie is constantly reminded of her marital responsibilities by degrading her value as a childless woman, and who apparently cannot satisfy her own husband. ‘Why no one asks if he can satisfy me? It’s not fair.’ says Maggie, thereby personifying conversations about gender equality present in 1955 and 2018.

It’s difficult to say who’s the real winner here, also as both Miller and O’Connell present the best of their acting skills, achieving sensational effects. They are the greatest reason to see Andrews’ version of ‘Cat’, that presents truth within the drama and a really unforgettable and thought-provoking experience.

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