Review: CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF, Apollo Theatre

By: Jul. 26, 2017
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Continuing the resurgence of Tennessee Williams plays is the Young Vic's Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. This is the popular theatre's first production to make its debut in the West End, in contrast to some recent transfers, with the production running at Shaftesbury Avenue's Apollo Theatre for the next 12 weeks.

It's Big Daddy's 65th birthday, and he has recently been given the all-clear by the doctor, so all the family are gathered at the house to celebrate following a big dinner. But youngest son Brick is recovering from an ankle injury so opted to remain in his room; his peace is soon disturbed as wife Maggie returns to change her dress and regale him with events so far. It seems that maybe there's more to this gathering than meets the eye...

Magda Willi's design sees a sloped basic frame of a bedroom as the main stage, set with a vast gold background and floor. It's not especially nice to look at, with some distracting reflections coming off the gold areas. There is an attempt to make it a modern setting with the use of a mobile phone and tablet, but that somehow doesn't ring true - and almost feels like an excuse for not covering up the actors' various tattoos. Benedict Andrews' direction makes inefficient use of the space, often opting for a single corner or the very back of the stage for no particular reason. I think it would feel more at home in a smaller theatre.

However, Jon Clark's lighting design casts some wonderful silhouettes and provides subtle spotlights at certain moments - though the highlight has to be the firework display effect, brought about in conjunction with Gareth Fry's sound design.

It may be an attempt at a modern version of the play but there's no change in setting, which means the cast have to grapple with Southern American accents. Unfortunately, despite vocal coaching, they don't have a great degree of success here: either over-exaggerating or not covering up their own accents.

I have to question the need for the amount of nudity that has been opted for, in the case of both Maggie and Brick (stars Sienna Miller and Jack O'Connell). It doesn't seem to serve any purpose bar the shock factor - and that wears off very quickly. Until perhaps the final moments I see no real justification for it.

Those moments are about the most memorable of both actors' performances. Jack O'Connell gives nothing, making two-hander scenes involving him quite torturous as his co-stars try to make up the difference; Brick's conversation with his father in act 2 really drags. Sienna Miller shows more commitment, getting a few laughs with some of Maggie's cattier lines - her character's dominance of the first act becomes quite grating, however, as Miller rushes the lines out with little rhythm.

Though none of the characters are particularly endearing in any way, Lisa Palfrey's portrayal of Big Mama is perhaps the most human of them all - and her later scenes are quite moving. Colm Meaney gives an excellent performance as the cruel patriarch, bringing the most life and dark humour to the whole production.

This lop-sided production is long and laboured, with the first act lulling you into a false sense of security at a running time of 45 minutes; acts two and three run back-to-back after the interval for 105 minutes, meaning the play is 15 minutes shy of three hours in length. With no real driving force to the story it becomes a marathon early on and never really recovers.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is at the Apollo Theatre until 7 October

Picture credit: Johan Persson


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