May 3, 2019
“It’s passionate, it’s vivid, it’s raw. It’s essential theatre.”
4 1/2 stars out of 5
Sydney Theatre Company’s adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ 1955 classic Cat On A Hot Tin Roof is an explosive piece of theatre, expertly crafted by STC Artistic Director Kip Williams.
Every cast member is given their opportunity for a flight of melodrama, expressing big and bold emotions, and giving a visceral, physical form to the tensions that bind and repel the characters to and from one another. Don’t see this play if you don’t appreciate shouting, objects thrown across the room, and the smashing of glass.
There’s a lot of that, as well as the burst of fireworks lighting up a fit of pique, the back wall of lights flashing with a blinding intensity – as designed by Nick Schlieper – set to sound from composer Stefan Gregory. Their work, along with David Fleischer’s mobile set design, clean and sharp, provides a base from which the action and emotion can build and build, and the careful placement of mirrors can elicit a sense of increasing claustrophobia.
Those moments of high drama are realised by stellar performances from the core cast, Zahra Newman as Maggie, Pamela Rabe as Big Mama, Hugo Weaving as Big Daddy, and Weaving’s real-life son, Harry Greenwood, as Brick.
The first to win us over is Newman, who easily weaves together an effortless sexiness with anxiety, desperation for Maggie, who is trying to convince her alcoholic husband, Brick, to listen to her, to have a baby with her, to forget the traumas of his past – the loss of his best friend and assumed lover, Skipper – and live in the present with her. The cat on a hot tin roof of the title – always dangerously close to losing her grip – holds the audience’s attention fully, outshining Greenwood in the opening act as she sashays across the stage, discarding piece after piece of clothing.
But Greenwood – who doesn’t quite have the sullen presence of other performers we have seen inhabit the role, like Jack Connell in the Young Vic’s (London) 2017 production – comes into his own when he’s across from the formidable, masculine energy of Weaving. He’s at his best when expressing pent-up frustration and grief, attempting to articulate to his father the source of his drinking problem. Still, beyond those moments the increasingly intoxicated Brick, forever waiting for the ‘click’ from alcohol which makes his mind peaceful, barely listens to Big Daddy’s ravings, the patriarch celebrating a seemingly positive medical diagnosis. It’s nothing but a spastic co-lon!
Rabe’s Big Mama is certainly relieved by this news, the doting Southern wife and mother, making ribald jokes and trying to hold together her fractured family unit, which also includes Nikki Shiels and Josh McConville as the overlooked yet controlling Mae and Gooper.
Ultimately though it is Weaving who commands the stage – it’s difficult to take your eyes off him for even a second, as his verve and an imagined healthy future slowly unravel before him. Weaving’s magnetic presence – inspiring a combined feeling of fear, disgust and strange desire – is what will get people through the door to Cat On A Hot Tin Roof to watch this family grapple not only with each other, but with themselves.
It’s passionate, it’s vivid, it’s raw. It’s essential theatre.