Tennessee Williams once wrote: ‘Personal lyricism is the outcry of prisoner to prisoner from the cell in solitary where each is confined for the duration of his life.” The frequent mention of cages in Williams’ Pulitzer prize-winning play Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is an allusion to the same idea – the fundamental, frustrating loneliness of human existence. Set in the Mississippi Delta in 1955, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof explores the strained relationships between members of the wealthy, plantation-owning Pollitt family. Set entirely in the bedroom of Brick and Maggie (the Pollitts’ younger son, a former football star who has grown into an uncommunicative alcoholic, and his beautiful, socially aspiring and deeply dissatisfied wife), we see how the restrictive social mores and superficial values of the Deep South have prevented the characters forming happy, functioning relationships or living even remotely fulfilling lives. Despite their enormous wealth, The Pollitts operate from a place where repression, mistrust, dishonesty and greed motivate and dominate every interaction.
Never a company to shy away from a challenge, Leitheatre have a genuinely admirable and often very successful stab at an extremely demanding production. Tony-award winning professionals have often struggled to do justice to Williams’ exacting dialogue and complex characterisation. Yet, with almost universally perfect Mississippi accents, the actors, directed by Mike Paton, give decidedly proficient, frequently compelling performances.
As Maggie, Nicole Nadler successfully channels her most famous predecessor in the role, Elizabeth Taylor, radiating Hollywood glamour and slinking around the set with appropriately feline movements. Her commitment to the accent and Southern intonation is consistent, but seems to interfere occasionally with her breathing and the pace of her delivery, resulting in the loss of clarity in some of her lines in Act 1. Given the sheer volume of dialogue in this part of the play, however, this seems a minor quibble.
Unburdened by such excessive dialogue, Kevin Rowe gives a thoroughly convincing and engaging performance as Brick throughout. His swallowed despair and simmering irritation in Act 1 develop, via increasing drunkenness, into a form of nihilistic acceptance, peppered with flashes of wry, existential humour in Act 2, all of which is delivered with expert understatement.
The most engaging and potent scene in the play is by far the night-time conversation between Brick and Big Daddy, played by Hamish Hunter, in which father and son make a hampered, almost desperate attempt to find some kind of connection. Comfortable within the role throughout, Hunter really comes into his own here, resulting in Act 2 being significantly stronger overall than Act 1. He is ably supported by Phyllis Ross as Big Mama, Debra May as Mae and Pat Hymers as Gooper.
The set is, thankfully, straightforward and naturalistic, reflecting the era and location. ( A wise decision – some recent revivals have shown that Cat On a Hot Tin Roof is not a play that works well when the set or setting is interfered with too radically). Use of blue and pink lighting add aesthetic appeal and successfully convey the transition from day to night. Another lovely touch is the appearance of Campbell Moffat to play the fiddle in the auditorium at the beginning and during the interval.
Leitheatre is advertised as ‘one of the best amateur companies in the capital working to professional standards’. Even with some uneven elements and the occasional fluffing of lines during the opening night performance, this production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof more than proves the accuracy of this assessment.