There's no denying that if you choose Tennessee Williams's Cat on a Hot Tin Roof as the first production of your inaugural season as artistic director, you're happy to invite comparisons with the 1958 film version, if only because that is how the majority of your audience will be familiar with it.
Which means you're immediately challenging your director and his cast by giving them a pretty high bar to reach. Your leading man has to be as simmeringly appealing as Paul Newman, and your leading lady has to have the gutsy charm and beauty of Elizabeth Taylor. It's asking for trouble.
Luckily, Robert Hastie's staging of this sultry American classic is up to the job, and robustly so. Theatr Clwyd's new artistic director Tamara Harvey has chosen a season opener with the right kind of story and characters to get the juices flowing, to set out her stall. The venue has in the past staged its classic productions in the smaller Emlyn Williams Theatre, but this production is thrust proudly front and centre in the Anthony Hopkins auditorium.
|Desmond Barrit as Big Daddy and|
Gareth David-Lloyd as Brick
|Catrin Stewart as Maggie|
Elsewhere we have an endearing turn from Abigail McKern as Big Mama, performed with such gusto and charm that you can't help feeling for her at every turn. She may look like a slightly anachronistic Mrs Merton, but she provides the heart of the piece, as well as much of the sparse comedy.
The ever reliable Catrin Aaron plays the scheming sister-in-law Mae, pregnant with her sixth child and waddling determinedly around acting as her husband Gooper's ersatz mouthpiece. Gooper may be an accomplished businessman with grand ideas for Big Daddy's estate after he's gone, but make no mistake, it's Mae who drives him. It's easy to think it's all through selfishness, but it's a more protective self-interest for her family unit rather than just herself. Nevertheless, she's the bitch everybody wants to shut up.
|Gareth David-Lloyd as Brick, Ian|
Hallard as Rev Tooker and Andrew
Langtree as Gooper
Almost stealing the show from under the cast's noses is Janet Bird's magnificent set, a multi-level affair which adds scale and distance and puts a four-poster bed centre-stage, a constant reminder of the crack in Brick and Maggie's marriage. Colin Grenfell's lighting goes a long way in helping tell the story, with the passing of the day reflected in the darkening backdrop, and in tandem with Matthew Williams's sound design, is at its finest during the fireworks scene, each coloured explosion adding to the events on stage. As truths tumble out, the revelations are highlighted by explosions in the sky, and as the whole cast comes together for the final scene of mass accusation, a thunderstorm rolls in. Bird and Williams do so much to make this production as effective as it is.
Director Robert Hastie is an associate director of London's Donmar Warehouse, another fresh approach introduced by Tamara Harvey. He has put together a strong cast and brings together some impressive technical talent to create a version of Tennessee Williams's 1955 classic which is not afraid of comparison, and certainly stands up to it. The casting of TV names (something Theatr Clwyd has rarely embraced in the past) should attract some new faces to the theatre, and for that, both Hastie and Harvey should be proud.
Writer: Tennessee Williams
Director: Robert Hastie (assisted by Chelsey Gillard)
Cast: Catrin Aaron (Mae); Desmond Barrit (Big Daddy); Gareth David-Lloyd (Brick); Ryan Ellsworth (Dr Baugh); Ian Hallard (Rev Tooker); Andrew Langtree (Gooper); Abigail McKern (Big Mama); Catrin Stewart (Maggie). Children played by Jake Maxwell, Ruby-Rye Hayes, Sam Williams, Brooke Compton (purple team)
Performed at Theatr Clwyd, Mold, February 4th to March 5th, 2016. Performance reviewed: February 10th, 2016.
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof on Theatr Clwyd website (retrieved Feb 11 2016)
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof SparkNotes (retrieved Feb 11 2016)
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof promo video (retrieved Mar 16 2016)