Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (Belvoir St Theatre 2013)

Belvoir St Theatre, Sydney, 31st March 2013

Director Simon Stone follows up on last year’s controversial adaptation of Death of a Salesman with this energetic production of the Tennesee WIlliams classic Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

This production stars Ewen Leslie (Dead Europe) as Brick and Jacqueline McKenzie (Sex With Strangers) as Maggie, the troubled couple at the heart of the play. Big Daddy, Brick’s father, is played by Marshall Napier, a last-minute substitute for Anthony Phelan.

My first impression—unavoidable really—is of the daring and colourful stage design: a turntable stage, initially lit with blue fluorescent lights and bisected by a rainbow of colourful streamers hanging from the ceiling. As the stage turns, actors appear and disappear from view, and the tension between on-stage and off-stage is ever present. This stage design is used well, with much of the dialogue occurring between Brick and Maggie inside the house as the rest of the family audibly celebrate outside.

Ewen Leslie plays the quiet, malaise-ridden Brick, perhaps too quietly. His alcoholic depression is evident, with his face and actions conveying more than the dialogue. He is aloof in some parts and quick to anger in others. Jacqueline McKenzie is full of vitalistic force, with her long, fast and breathless opening monologue about her sister-in-law’s children, those “no-necked monsters”. She begins as more of an excitable puppy than a cat on a hot tin roof, but soon settles into the role. The interplay between Maggie and Brick seems one-sided until Brick finally cracks, and his pent-up anger towards her is allowed to manifest.

The storyline of Big Daddy and Big Mama (Lynette Curran) is dripping with dramatic irony, as the news of Big Daddy’s cancer is held from them, and the emotion and presence that Curran brings to her role is a real highlight. There is a visible stillness in the audience as tension builds towards a violent confrontation between Brick and Big Daddy, leading into the intermission.

The modern sound design of Stefan Gregory is also impressive, as in many Belvoir productions, bringing the audience back from intermission with sharp, high-pitched tones; head-splitting for some, but an effective device when used sparingly, and a joy for fans of avante sound art. The set remains a mess, the aftermath of the previous violence still present, a visible signal that the remainder of the play is concerned with picking up the pieces and confronting reality.

This production has received unfair criticism for employing Australian accents in its Mississippi setting. Rather than ruining a classic, a neutral local accent merely allows it to be enjoyed cleanly, without exoticism, on the basis of words and performance alone. It’s also welcome that, unlike in the film adaptation, the theme of homosexuality is not left out. Stone’s production had me on the emotional edge of my seat, ready to pounce like a cat on a hot tin roof.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof has now moved to the Theatre Royal. Last night, 21st April 2013.

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