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Review: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof at The Royal Exchange is “full of dazzling performances”

The Royal Exchange's production of 'Cat on a Hot Tin Roof' is packed with dazzling performances in the modern re-imagining of the Tennessee Williams' classic.

“Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” is a Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Tennessee Williams, first performed on Broadway in 1955.

The story takes place in the Mississippi Delta on a hot summer evening, where a wealthy Southern family is gathered to celebrate the 65th birthday of Big Daddy Pollitt, a wealthy plantation owner.

The play revolves around the complicated relationships of the Pollitt family members, particularly between Big Daddy’s son Brick and his wife Maggie.

Dealing with the secrets and lies that threaten to tear the family apart, the play deals with themes of sexuality, greed, family relationships, and mortality.

It features complex characters who struggle to come to terms with their own desires and motivations.

Set on a rotating stage, moodily lit below a giant mobile the claustrophobic set-up of the stage mirrors the intensity of the arguments and anxieties taking place on it.

The open circle stage gives the impression of the characters having no privacy, a theme in the play of people scheming and listening surreptitiously outside locked doors, hoping to hear family secrets and gain one up in the inheritance stakes.

Ambient-sounding, muffled noises and the ticking of a clock all add to the intensity of fantastic performances by Bayo Gbadamosi (Brick), Patrick Robinson’s (Big Daddy) and Ntombizodwa Ndlovu (Maggie).

Bayo Gbadamosi (Brick) and Ntombizodwa Ndlovu (Maggie)

The lighting, designed by Lizzie Powell complements the moody and anxiety-inducing sound design by Alexandra Faye Braithwaite and Tayo Akinbode.

Brick, a former football star, is struggling with alcoholism and mourning the death of his best friend Skipper.

Played by Bayo Gbadamosi, his powerful depiction of the troubled man evolves from anger and pity to empathy when he shares his story of loss and destitution as the play develops.

Maggie, desperate for Brick’s attention and affection, tries to rekindle their relationship but faces continuous rejection from her husband who would rather hit the bottle than make love to her.

As the evening progresses, the family’s secrets and lies are gradually exposed, including the fact that Big Daddy is dying of cancer and his son Gooper and daughter-in-law Mae are scheming to inherit the family fortune.

Patrick Robinson’s performance as Big Daddy is nothing short of incredible. A performance imbued with humour, intensity and defiance, he drives the narrative forward in the second half of the play.

He grapples with mortality, his alcoholic son and a loveless marriage, themes amplified by the low level ticking of a background clock.

Brick’s brother Gooper and his wife Mae are constantly vying for Big Daddy’s favor, and they use the occasion of his birthday to push for their own inheritance.

Mae has produced five children and tries to belittle Maggie for not having any.

Big Daddy initially dismisses the idea of his own mortality but later confides in Brick that he has cancer, leaving Brick conflicted about whether to tell his father the truth about his condition.

Throughout the play, Williams explores themes of family, legacy, honesty, and the struggle for power and control.

Maggie’s desperation for Brick’s affection highlights the importance of love and connection in human relationships, while the family’s obsession with wealth and inheritance reveals the darker side of human nature.

In the end, the truth is revealed, and each character must come to terms with their own motivations and desires.

Overall, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof was praised for its honest portrayal of the human condition and its exploration of universal themes that continue to resonate with audiences today.

It is widely regarded as one of Tennessee Williams’ greatest works and a landmark in American theatre.

This is a fantastic, intense performance that explores the human condition and has you empathising with people who really, are trouble human beings with questionable motives.

However, their vulnerability is something we can perhaps see in ourselves, which makes the performances so powerful.

“Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” is a powerful and emotional play that delves into the complexities of family relationships and the human condition. Williams’ beautiful writing and intricate character development make this play a timeless masterpiece that continues to resonate with audiences today.

The play is on until 29th of April at the Royal Exchange Theatre

You can get tickets here.

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