It’s Big Daddy (Patrick Wilde)’s 65th birthday, and the family gathers to celebrate – but there are shadows hanging over the festivities and talks to be had.
In this hot, southern plantation where cotton is king, plots are hatched and more than one unhappy marriage whirs over and over. Brick (Luke Baverstock), the injured athlete, is not over a betrayal and has turned to liquor.
Big Daddy and Big Mama (Sarah Morrison) have been trapped in the same routine of affection and duty for forty years. She comes across at first as fussy and weak, but her inner strength becomes clear in act 3.
Act 1 is largely a two-hander between Brick and Maggie, Act 2 between Brick and Big Daddy. It gives a sense of intimacy. None of the family are prepared to say what they mean; they are good at talking and saying nothing.
Roger Beaumont’s direction uses every corner of Alex Marker’s set, dressed with the details of a wealthy Americana. As Maggie hardly holds in her lust for her still handsome husband, he sips whisky and leans on the crutch he has for support.
The older son of the family, Gooper (Robert Wixey), with his chatty, trashy wife Mae (Anne Marie Ryan) and their brood of five – with one on the way – constantly wheedle out promises of money and needle Maggie about her lack of a child.
In Williams’s depiction of a pressure-cooker evening where family ties and resentments are set to blow, with Brick’s drinking under the microscope just as much as the sample taken from Big Daddy’s ailing body.
The sound design is top-notch, with fireworks flashing underneath the terrace and the ‘no-neck monsters’ chanting and singing. Even a clock chime and a telephone ring find their place.
In Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, the game is one drawn-out tease of cat and mouse, with us never clear who will taste victory. Unlike the 1958 film, the stage version treads openly on the subject of male friendship.
This production has few moments of lightness, but in its depictions of Maggie, Big Mama, and even Big Daddy and Brick, it does draw our sympathies.
Hirst’s Maggie is a clever feline, making her moves with tact and guile. Baverstock’s Brick hisses with hatred of his wife and yet is powerless to leave her. And for Big Daddy, he is just as trapped in his huge acreage and millions as his son is in his own conflict.
This remains a play of relevance, as families will always be greedy, jealous, or keeping up appearances. I would recommend catching this production if you can.
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is on at the Questors until 18 Feb: tickets here.
Image credit: Robert Vass