Following his Young Vic hit production of A Streetcar Named Desire which also just recently played at the glorious St. Ann’s Warehouse, The director, Benedict Andrews thrusts at us a raw and radical revival which updates the classic Southern swagger and gives it a modern beat. The story slowly unwinds, with all the repetition of a long winded southern belle. Maggie talks and talks, afraid of the silence that would come if she stopped. Big Daddy talks and talks as well, hoping that a connection based somewhere in truth will appear if he just talks long enough. Both mesmerize us within the stark prison-like setting that is Brick’s bedroom, banishing all aspects of the Mississippi delta mansion, and giving him a barren cage with very little to hold on to.
Magda Willi (A Streetcar Named Desire), the Swiss theatre designer dominates the open space by placing only a bed, a vanity, and a shower, one that is used over and over again by a naked O’Connell as he attempts to wash away his deeply infused sense of guilt and shame. There in the modernization of the period piece, Andrews has enlisted cell phones and iPads, an idea that seems a bit pointless, unless one is trying to remind us that although much has changed since Taylor and Newman had to be so hush hush when talking about Brick’s best friend, Skipper and the urges of homosexuality that filled the heavy hot air around the two, much has stayed the same. Especially, in terms of the Southern discomfort many feel when trying to talk about a man loving another man, both intimately, romantically, and erotically.
Although Maggie is the woman so impossible not to notice, on this steamy night in Mississippi at Big Daddy’s birthday celebration, it is really Brick who holds center court, and who all are seen running themselves ragged around, as he stands silent waiting for his ‘click’. Maggie, Big Daddy, and all the others, (the magnificent Lisa Palfrey as a tight minidress wearing Big Mama, and Hayley Squires as the annoyingly aggressive Mae), try their hardest to gain his attention and favor, attempting to poke, pry, or engage. And why wouldn’t they?
As the faltering former athletic Brick who is trying so hard to escape from the antics of the party, its O’Connell’s heat that all can feel and are pulled towards. They can’t seem to stay away, forever re-entering his room, seeking him out, and calling out his name. O’Connell epitomizes the caged man, locking himself away in an attempt to flee their stare, tormenting himself for actions that at first felt like survival, but later turned into pain and shame. Locking his gaze and attention rigidly on the four whiskey bottles center stage, this alcoholic’s attempt at obliteration is the true revelation of the evening, and the one true connection. Maggie or Big Daddy can dance round all the secrets and tensions that threaten to destroy their connection to Brick, but the finality of all lie in the heart of Brick. With the future of each and everyone wrapped around Brick’s drunken heart, who, if anyone, will get through to him? Will anyone one win him over? Or will they all falter getting through the haze of the whisky? The cat does have 9 lives, but will that be enough?
Captured live on stage, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof will screen in cinemas around the world from 22 February 2018.
Show image photography Charlie Grey; Production photography Johan Persson