Royal Exchange Theatre gets a cat
By Jay Darcy
The Royal Exchange Theatre is following up last year’s The Glass Menagerie with another play by legendary playwright Tennessee Williams: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Cat was last staged at the RX in 2014, and Glass was previously performed in 2008. However, the RX’s most successful Williams adaptation is, of course, A Streetcar Named Desire, starring Maxine Peake, which saw people queuing up outside in the cold in hopes of getting day seats.
The RX’s continued staging of Williams’ classics, and the success off each production, goes to show how timeless they are. Further, the RX is inventive and thoughtful; they draw different things from classic texts to suit contemporary times. Cat will, no doubt, be no different.
In fact, this is clear just by the casting, with all but one actor being a person of colour. The casting of people of colour in these roles is subversive, for the play is set in a plantation home – owned by a cotton tycoon!
Secrets and lies are as oppressive as the Mississippi heat, suffocating Maggie and everything she’s fought for. It’s Big Daddy’s birthday, and the family are home for one helluva celebration. Big Daddy is dying, except he doesn’t know it. But his family does, and so begins an ugly battle for succession. Dripping in ambitious flattery, Gooper and his wife, Mae, are poised to win – but Maggie is ready to pounce. Maggie spits, viper-tongued, fighting like a cat on a hot tin roof while Brick sinks to the bottom of a bottle – waiting haplessly for the ‘click’.
“But the one thing I don’t have is the charm of the defeated, my hat is still in the ring, and I am determined to win!”
One of Williams’s more famous works and his personal favourite, Cat won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1955. It features motifs such as social mores, greed, superficiality, mendacity, decay, sexual desire, repression and death. The original production starred Barbara Bel Geddes, Burl Ives and Ben Gazzara, whilst the 1958 film starred Elizabeth Taylor and Paul Newman, with Burl Ives and Madeleine Sherwood recreating their stage roles. Williams made substantial excisions and alterations to the play for a revival in 1974. This has been the version used for most subsequent revivals.
So, come on down to the Royal Exchange – but beware the cat.
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof runs at the Royal Exchange Theatre from March 24 to April 29.