Sex, death and money. These powerful motivators are taken apart and examined in the production of Tennessee Williams’ Cat On A Hot Tin Roof at the Royal & Derngate theatre in Northampton.
On an icy white set the cast tell the story of one night in the lives of a family beset by simmering tension in the American deep south of the mid-1950s.
Patriarch Big Daddy is celebrating his birthday, or rather his relatives are celebrating it, eager to win him over in one way or another. Why? Because he is rich, dying and hasn’t made a will.
All except his son Brick, played by Charles Aitken, who is only interested in drinking until that elusive “click” happens in his head that can give him a little temporary peace.
He says he is disgusted by all the lying. There is plenty of it as characters lie to each other and lie to themselves, they talk about love when really they are driven by sheer desperation.
Brick is gay but he can’t admit it and is tortured by the way he rejected the man he had feelings for, who then drank himself to death. His wife Maggie is desperate to have his child. She says she loves him but she also wants to secure her own future.
As the birthday fireworks are set off secrets are revealed, home truths are told and these are all topped off with one big fat lie. At the end we don’t find resolution but we have seen a slice of life.
Thursday night’s performance had a considerable hurdle to overcome in that Daragh O’Malley, who was due to play the pivotal role of Big Daddy, was unwell and his place was instead taken by Terence Wilton who, because of the circumstances, had to perform with the script in hand.
I was worried initially when he came on stage that this was going to be just too distracting, but in fact it wasn’t and although there were a few glances down at the words, the performances of all on stage overcame this and allowed the character to work. A difficult task I should imagine, not only for an actor playing a central and powerful role, but for his fellow actors too. The theatre has said that they hope Daragh O’Malley will return to the cast in the near future.
The play portrays an era and a situation where most of the power is with the men, but for me it was the women’s performances that came through most strongly. Mariah Gale as Maggie, Victoria Elliott as Mae and Kim Criswell as Big Mama all presenting women who are each resilient and determined in their own particular way.
I must also say that the production looks quite beautiful. It is glossy, bright, luxurious and gleaming. From the chandelier to the crystal glasses, the look is dazzling. Its clean purity certainly contrasted with the messy lives portrayed.
Cat On A Hot Tin Roof is on at Royal & Derngate until October 18.