Excitement and anticipation was in the air as people arrived for Press Night on 1st December 2009 at the Novello Theatre, London for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.
One word sums it up – BRAVO! This Tennessee Williams play directed by the talented Debbie Allen and played by an all black cast is full of passion, conviction, drama, humor and touching moments. The unchanging set seemed authentic… making you believe you were in a big beautiful mansion on a Mississippi plantation. You could see the wealth and prestige of the Pollitt family. The mirrors on either side of the Stalls seating area in the beautiful Novello Theatre actually made the stage seem bigger.
All the characters play specific contributing roles but James Earl Jones (Big Daddy) was bigger than life – what a presence! Sometimes you weren’t sure what to think about Big Daddy as he was usually what could be perceived as loud, rude and uncaring. However, maybe he was who he was from working his way up in the cotton fields to owning the largest plantation this side of the Nile and putting up being surrounded by mendacity. There were some words (actually one word said a few times) and movements that I wasn’t expecting from James Earl Jones but they seemed to fit the character – so well done. As Big Daddy faced his mortality, he was trying to figure out who to leave his large estate to… wanting to leave it to his favorite son, Brick, but not knowing he could handle the responsibility while being an alcoholic.
I expected Big Mama played by Phylicia Rashad to be bigger (literally), especially the way Big Daddy talked about her but she played her part really well… the way she acted ‘older’ and as a loving and devoted mother and wife… strong and fearless when she had to be. You could see her love for Big Daddy though he said he wished he could believe it. That’s a sad statement after 40 years of marriage though you saw some tenderness between them at the end. It was odd how sometimes what he said to her made us laugh when in reality, we would have been upset at the harsh tone / words he used disrespecting someone who deserves respect.
Sanaa Lathan as Maggie the Cat and Adrian Lester as Brick the alcoholic husband/son gave outstanding performances. There were times I had to laugh thinking she is hounding that poor man and does she ever shut up but by the end I was admiring her for her strength and perseverance. She seemed genuinely concerned for Big Daddy and caring towards Big Mama though at first she did only seem worried (like the others) about what they would inherit. I found myself wanting to defend or protect Brick as you could feel his pain with the loss of his best ‘friend’ and having to think / talk about that in an unwelcomed heart-to-heart with his father. Maggie and particularly Brick seemed to have the genuine affections of Big Daddy which was such a stark contrast to how he talked to / treated everyone else.
Nina Sosanya (Mae) and Peter de Jersey (Mae’s husband, Gooper) did great in their supporting roles. I was just wondering where the fifth kid was as they kept talking about their 5 kids and 1 on the way… usually there were only 4 on the stage that I noticed anyway. You kind of loved to hate them as they were annoying with their pettiness and greed while appearing upper class / proper.
The show passionately and accurately touches on alcoholism, loss, illness (cancer), facing mortality, family gatherings, greed, family discontent, sibling rivalry, being childless, sexuality, love, pain, and fear. It has everything. All the actors gave it their all from Big Daddy to the servants to the children and everyone in between – that was quite obvious. I liked the references to a ‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof’ tying the title with the characters / behaviors.
The lighting was well done showing the sun setting, seeing the moon and stars, fireworks, etc. As mentioned, the set/stage was well done and I thought it was interesting how the whole play took place in Maggie and Brick’s bedroom (due to Brick’s injured ankle) though it had everything needed from a sitting area to a bar complete with radio and television to a couple of doors leading out to the Gallery.
I’m not sure about the two ‘intermissions’ (or the 15 minute interval and 5 minute break). I’m not sure the 5 minute break is needed unless people know how long it is so they can get back to their seats before the play continues although it gives people an opportunity to stand and stretch their legs. The intermissions seemed to be timed right though according to what was going on within the play. The safety curtain was a beautifully painted nature scene of the Mississippi contributing to the feel of the south.
It is certainly worth it to experience this brilliant play with the cast and creative team involved. They are responsible for making this magnificent version of this play the success it is. The Novello Theatre is the perfect venue… suitable luxurious-feeling surroundings (with marble and mirrors), comfortable seats… nice view from the Stalls (seemed to be light and spacious).
Bravo, everyone! Bravo! And ‘many happy returns’.
by Ann Kamran (stagetalk.co.uk)