A classic of American theatre and one of Tennessee Williams' masterpieces, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof chronicles a hot and steamy night on a Mississippi cotton plantation as a family gathers to celebrate a birthday. Last year, the play was chosen by the Young Vic for a limited season on London's West End. The production was filmed and will be presented to cinema audiences around the world as part of the popular National Theatre Live series.
Set entirely across the course of one night, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof begins as patriarch Big Daddy (Colm Meany) is getting ready to mark his 65th birthday. Big Daddy's alcoholic son Brick (Jack O'Connell) is with his wife Maggie (Sienna Miller) in their bedroom as she prepares for the party. It's clear early that Maggie and Brick's relationship is fraught. Maggie, tough and headstrong, wants to somehow save the marriage; Brick is happy drinking all of his many problems away, despite Maggie's intent. As the party nears, Maggie works on Brick, but he's more interested in the bottle.
The party comes around and Maggie trades place in the bedroom with Big Daddy. The rich and powerful owner of the farm has got his own problems - health concerns and therefore, the future of the plantation, and who will inherit it. Big Daddy tries to explain all of this to his son and to learn the reasons behind Brick's unrelenting drinking and failed marriage.
Directed by Australian Benedict Andrews, the production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof benefits from a solid cast. Sienna Miller is brilliant as Maggie - she's fierce and dazzling and brings her character alive, especially during the long monologues of the first act. Colm Meany as Big Daddy is also first rate, performing solidly and with great focus. Jack O'Connell's Brick is a little less polished, he seems to waver at time and lacks the strength of his fellow players.
What's a little curious in this production are some of the staging decisions. The cast uses modern appliances, like mobile phones, but the 1950s references and dialogue run up against this with no explanation. The set of Brick and Maggie's bedroom (which is the setting for the entire play) also seems like something from a modern-day McMansion, not a cotton plantation. Nor does the set convey the stifling heat so often referred to in the play's dialogue. Indeed, the room looks as though a modern air conditioner would be humming away in the background, negating the need for constant protestations about the heat.
Curious staging decisions aside, the National Theatre Live screenings of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof offer a great chance to see an update of a great American play.