Alluring and Compelling: ‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof’ Review

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Image Credit: Helen Murray

★★★★★

There is something alluring about director Roy Alexander Weise’s Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, reimagined from Tennessee Williams’ classic play. In the round space of the Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester, you are drawn right into the Pollitt family’s troubles and charades, and moved by the sheer emotion evoked by each of the incredibly talented cast members. They take Williams’ Pulitzer prize-winning dialogue and carefully weave empathy around characters’ plights through brilliant staging and palpable chemistry.

True to the tropes of classic American playwrights of the 20th century, Williams digests people as products of capitalism, the weight of gender roles and sexuality, and how dreams and aspirations cloud with wealth, with Weise questioning how relevant these topics still are today. Featuring the second performance of a predominantly black cast playing the Pollitt family, a wealthy, plantation owning family in early 20th century America, and bringing the show to a former cotton exchange, Weise is looking generationally at race and power, and how we reconcile with our truths of the past just as the characters of the play do- albeit for different reasons.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof examines how far families will go for money when Big Daddy (Patrick Robinson) gets diagnosed with malignant cancer as his 65th birthday celebrations dawn and has yet to write a will. Cue scheming spouses (Mae (Danielle Henry), Maggie (Ntombizodwa Ndlovu)), a lawyer of an eldest son (Gooper (Daniel Ward)) and an ex-footballer alcoholic of a youngest son (Brick (Bayo Gbadamosi)), and the melee starts to take shape. Performed in one room of the huge plantation house, designer Milla Clark brings a modern neutrality to the set and costume with a double bed taking centre stage. A cake in the shape of the plantation descends from the ceiling, Brick’s wife Maggie is dressed to the nines in sequins and Big Daddy is vaping as the stage revolves.

Doing a remarkable job of cultivating the background of the family, the audience initially see Maggie and Brick, as Maggie slowly tries to peel back the layers of their failing and childless marriage. Her emotion is visceral and partnered with Brick’s lack thereof, you immediately feel for the complicated relationship between the two. When the family all come together on stage, the power dynamics are well-orchestrated, with quick wit dancing through the scenes keeping the performance grounded and human.

An incredible feat of lighting and sound—as well as infallible acting, the cast members harmonise perfectly—Cat on a Hot Tin Roof assimilates into a melodic, spell-binding performance where each performer shines as the deceit unravels. Gbadamosi as Brick is remarkable as his sobriety declines over the evening and Robinson as Big Daddy moves between powerfully intimidating and disarmingly upbeat as required.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is an unflinching exploration of familial love, truth-telling, and the “mendacity” of those closest to you. Through innovative staging, bold music choices and compelling acting, the Pollitt family are stripped back in this refreshing take on a classic play. Weise has made this performance an astounding watch in just as astounding a setting.

Words by Hannah Goldswain


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