In Tennessee Williams CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF Big Daddy is dying but he doesn’t know it yet. It is his birthday. Big Mama is in the dark. Brick is at the bottom of a bottle. But Brick’s wife Maggie is alive, desperately alive, and dancing like a cat on a hot tin roof. We meet the fabled family when lies are rife, tensions are boiling over and their future is at stake.
Kip Williams production serves Williams’ epic drama well. He leads a great creative team who dynamically set up the world for the actors to work in, and they respond by giving strong performances.
Hugo Weaving has a darkly masculine energy as the formidable, imposing Big Daddy. Weaving makes his first appearance at the very tail of Act 1. Big Daddy is the patriarch of the family who everyone lies in fear of. He has had a health scare and thought that his reign might be over but the results seem to be positive so he is back being the boss again. The main thing that he wants is to get Brick’s (his favourite son) life back on track again. Big Daddy and Brick have one hell of an extended, prolonged scene together with sparks flying back and forth.Pamela Rabe plays his long suffering wife Big Mama who deeply loves her husband of forty years and is completely distraught when she finds out that he is dying. Is there a better actress who plays turmoil and ‘distraught’ better? I don’t think so. The scene where she gets the morphine which she will give to her husband to stop his wailing is almost too painful to watch.
Harry Greenwood is brilliant as the world weary alcoholic Brick who lumbers around the stage with one leg in a cast, symbolic of his wounded spirit. Brick is an intense, volatile, serious man who is in denial about his relationship with a male friend, Skipper. He is a childless marriage to Maggie, where the passion in the marriage has died for him. Greenwood is just so watchable and convincing in this role.
Zahra Newman is equally brilliant as Maggie. The play starts with her searing version of Cry Me A River. Maggie is desperate to keep the marriage going and is fiercely in love with Brick. She is edgy as anything. One of the plays most shocking scenes is when she raids Brick’s bart fridge and pours all his alcohol stashes onto the floor in a stunning renunciation of her husband’s alcoholic stupor.
Peter Carroll plays the mild mannered family Reverend Tooker who gets one of the few and big laughs of the night when he finds the family imploding in front of him and he says very understatedly, ‘I think I better go now’’, as he quickly exits the scene.
Josh McConville plays Big Daddy’s less favoured, well groomed son Cooper, who is very ingratiating to his father as is his bitchy wife, Mae, played by Nikki Shiels. Mae who is particularly snarly to Maggie.
Anthony Bandon Wong has a brief role as Big Daddy’s Doctor, the bearer of bad news.
Through the play Big Daddy and Big Mama’s grandchildren run amok through the house, in a neat juxtaposition of the playfulness of a child’s world as opposed to the volatility of the adult world.
David Fleischer’s set design is compact apart from a large power/fireworks grid, that’s my best description of it, which goes off/lights up in the play’s most dramatic moments. Stefan Gregory’s edgy soundscape comes to the fore at these times too.
Nick Schlieper’s atmospheric lighting design was its usual high standard as was Mel Page’s costume design.
If you love great drama, make sure that you go and see this production. Make sure you buy the program as the program notes are very good and enlightening. I will end on this note, “The dogged determination to carry on became not merely a character, but a central theme of the play. Williams wrote, ‘Vitality is the hero of the play. The character you can ‘root for’ is not a person but a quality in people that makes them survive’.
A Sydney Theatre Company and UBS production, CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF is playing the Roslyn Packer Theatre until the 8th June, 2019.