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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Cat On A Hot Tin Roof
Apollo Theatre  Summer 2017

Adequate but too rarely more than that, this Young Vic production misses too much of the Tennessee Williams drama's intense passions, sensitive psychology and hothouse atmosphere. 

It features one excellent performance and one very good one, but the rest of the acting and direction settle for the surface and generic. 

A quick reminder: rich and dying Southern farmer must decide who to leave his empire to, the successful lawyer son he hates or the alcoholic ex-jock he loves. Meanwhile Brick drinks and rejects his wife to escape a guilty secret, so both Big Daddy and Maggie must fight to save him for their own reasons. 

Act One is essentially an occasionally interrupted monologue by Maggie, laying out the backstory and her frustrations. Sienna Miller captures Maggie's nervousness and desperation (likened repeatedly in the play to the title image). 

But she has been directed by Benedict Andrews to play it all in a breathless rush, allowing the actress and character no opportunity to transition from one emotion to another or to build any rise or fall in intensity. 

The result is an undifferentiated and muddied portrait – we sense Maggie's desperation but catch too little of its shape. 

Acting honours here and throughout the play go to Jack O'Connell's Brick, in spite of his being generally silent in this scene. 

The essence of the play lies in Brick's deflecting anger onto others to avoid thoughts he can't face, and O'Connell repeatedly allows glimpses of Brick thinking and then running away from a thought in a matter of silent and underplayed seconds. 

This is particularly evident in the play's second act (combined with the third here), one of the American drama's many great father-son scenes (see Long Day's Journey, Death Of A Salesman, Jitney, etc.). 

In his rough but loving no-crap manner Big Daddy forces Brick to face his demons, and O'Connell not only shows us the turmoil Brick goes through on that journey, but he is one of the very few Bricks I've ever seen who gave me some hope that the son might have actually grown from the ordeal and be ever-so-slightly better able to cope afterwards. 

That is true even though Colm Meaney as Big Daddy gives O'Connell far to little to work with in the scene. 

Aside from recurring trouble with his lines that repeatedly breaks the rhythm of Williams's prose poetry, Meaney gives too small a performance to capture the father's crude vitality and lust for life. 

No one else in the cast registers much, Lisa Palfrey's Big Mama played too young for the role, Hayley Squires's Mae not nearly catty enough, Brian Gleeson's Gooper all but invisible. Even Gooper and Mae's children, the infamous 'no-neck monsters', aren't particularly bratty. 

Designer Magda Willi has pointlessly updated the play to the present, with a cell phone and I-player looking particularly out of place, and erased any hints of Southern plantation in favour of a sterile metal set with about as much atmosphere as a space station hospital room, leaving us only the actors' sometimes dodgy accents to give us any sense of time and place. 

My fellow Williams pedants will know that the play exists in several variant texts. Benedict Andrews has chosen the least often used, Williams's pre-Broadway version. This omits Big Daddy's return in the last act, and he and his refusal to go gently are missed.

(Andrews also inserts a few gratuitous obscenities into the text, which is a mistake, and not because I object to obscenities. But one of this play's dramatic climaxes comes when an old woman is driven to say 'Crap!', and the effect is lost when stronger language has been floating around freely.)

I suppose I should mention that both Sienna Miller and Jack O'Connell have nude scenes in this production, and that I can even see the dramatic justification for them. But I wouldn't call that reason enough to go out of your way to see this. 

O'Connell's performance with and without clothes, and to a lesser extent Miller's, and of course Tennessee Williams's writing, might just be enough.

Gerald Berkowitz

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