Writer: Tennessee Williams
Director: Sarah Esdaile
Designer: Francis O’Connor
Composer and Arranger: Simon Beddoe
Reviewer: S. E. Webster
The Public Reviews Rating:
It’s impossible to deny it; West Yorkshire Playhouse has a fantastic programme of theatre shows this season and theatre-goers really are spoilt for choice, from children’s classics to gritty theatre that really pushes the boundaries. Latest in the autumn line-up is Sarah Esdaile’s stunning new production of an all-time-classic, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Tennessee Williams play not only won the Pulitzer prize in 1955, but became an international icon in the 1958 film adaptation starring Elizabeth Taylor and Paul Newman. It is a drama that has endured throughout the decades and is furthermore set to return to Broadway next year, starring Scarlett Johansson as Maggie, or otherwise the ‘Cat’. Naturally, with many in the seated audience recalling the 1958 version to mind, any production team would reckon it a difficult task to meet the expectations founded on the back of Taylor and Newman’s performance. Not this team! They can only be said to embrace the challenge and, if the audience applause is anything to go by, they definitely succeed!
The set itself is an absolute joy to behold and really nails the production. Whilst minimalist sets are often the rave in many theatrical productions these days, it is really refreshing to see a well-crafted set that is not lacking in serious set design and props, that furthermore achieves it without imposing on the performance and instead enhances it. The set is slightly tilted so that around the periphery downstage it slopes down into a slight water trough. Beyond that are the basic supporting beams and structure of the house within which we see Maggie and Brick’s bedroom, the central couple within the play. Thus, the set is a highly flexible space where characters can be seen simultaneously engaging in conversation in the interior and others pacing on the outside veranda. Moreover, with the play being set in Mississippi on a cotton plantation, the water and long rags that hung down like vines from the theatre ceiling are highly appropriate and really enhance the climatic storm scene.
Sound is also intelligently used, whether to evoke fireworks, lightning and thunder crashes or the swelling blues music so appropriate to the Mississippi area, which harmonizes beautifully with the characters’ dialogue. Meanwhile, the costume is also highly sympathetic and lighting should be commended on the delicate and naturally shifting colours and tones as both the play itself and evening of Big Daddy’s birthday wear on into the night.
The actors are, each of them in their own right, highly talented and established in both television and on the theatre stage. In spite of the challenge of adopting a Deep South accent they all manage it with a firm confidence, especially Jamie Parker, whose accent is probably the most natural. The chemistry and energy between each and every one of them as jealousy and frustration boil and bubble is fantastic to watch and there is great comedy in act two especially, courtesy of Simon Roberts and Richard Cordery, who play Reverend Tooker and Big Daddy respectively. Perhaps the most intense and most impressive scene however is towards the end of the second act when Big Daddy and Brick, his son played by Jamie Parker, try to talk life truths with one another. Black humour, grief, frustrated energies and raw anger are all portrayed with such reality that it audience members on the front rows are sat on the edge of their seats, especially when whisky glasses start flying!
With a great theatre space, production team and stella cast this polished production presents a time-old classic that continues to shine on over 40 years since its opening night.
Runs until 27th October 2012
Tags: Amanda Boxer, Andrew Whyment, Benedict Sandiford, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, David Peart, Drama, Francis O'Connor, Hannah Stokely, Jamie Parker, Leeds, Mic Pool, Paul Pyant, Richard Cordery, Sarah Esdaile, Simon Beddoe, Simon Roberts, Tennessee Williams, West Yorkshire Playhouse, Zoe Boyle