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Quick Change Review: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

Review originally published on WhatsOnStage

★★★★

It takes a hot minute in a cool, dark room to truly appreciate just how intense Anthony Almeida's Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, co-produced by English Touring Theatre, Curve and Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse, gets.


As the winner of the 2019 RTST Sir Peter Hall Director Award, Almeida's direction is assertive and unapologetic, taking a beloved Tennessee Williams piece and proving its relevance and relation to human ego anywhere at any time.


Set over the course of one evening, we meet a family supposedly celebrating the 65th birthday of the head of the family, Big Daddy (Peter Forbes) and his clean bill of health following a cancer scare. Alongside him and his fiery temper is his wife, the doting Big Mama (Teresa Banham) and their sons; an alcoholic has-been, Brick (Oliver Johnstone) mourning the loss of a friend, and Gooper (Sam Alexander) who has spent his life cast in the shadows of his younger brother.


Joining them are their wives. The prowling Maggie (Siena Kelly), like a cat in heat, is restless and frustrated in her childless marriage to Brick. Kelly's performance is stellar as she parades both her desperation and determination with gooey smiles and tears in her eyes.


In contrast, the stern-faced Mae (Shanaya Rafaat) moves like a snake in the grass in pursuit of inheritance and justice for her baring of five sons, with another on the way. These young boys join the cast to scream and pop balloons and eat cake, acting as a sinister reminder of the ease of childhood in comparison to the nightmarish, never-ending party. The addition of a constant clicking clock as a soundtrack is a reminder of the battles that the characters have with mortality.


The script is relentless. Self-indulgent "talking in circles" monologues make the first half slow-moving, as we unveil anxieties about adultery, sexuality, wealth and power. Despite this, each word is venomous on the beat and finds a steady rhythm that ticks along; rather like Brick's repeated analogy of how he drinks till something in his mind clicks into place and he finds peace.


It makes for a claustrophobic viewing experience with no respite moment of silence as we deep dive into toxic family psyche.


Rosanna Vize's design features a central mosquito net that allows prying eyes and casts shadows for unannounced and undetected eavesdropping. That, a table and a healthy amount of liquor bottles complete the minimal staging that, while unfortunately lacking depth, represents multiple rooms in a large estate. At the back of the set is an illuminated passageway that leads to nowhere in particular – sanctuary perhaps.


Almeida's Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is a challenging watch – but one that is executed with razor-sharp precision.