first night

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

Leo Mylonadis goes south with HBT's production of 'Cat on a Hot Tin Roof'

 

Tennessee Williams’ masterpiece is a difficult beast to tame, and Hild Bede Theatre’s attempt to tackle such a challenging piece showed truly remarkable effort. Williams’ script does not lend itself to any but the most talented of actors, filled with seemingly unending monologues delivered to no-one in particular. But, unlike those of tragic Greek plays, Cat’s speeches vary from dramatic extremes of intense anger immediately followed by concern for social appearances or the softest love. Unfortunately, the cast was on the whole unable to pick apart the lines so as to make them more natural and expressive, missing the tone that makes this script such a classic. They unfortunately set themselves up against the insurmountable obstacle of having to keep the audience attentive and engaged throughout these meandering speeches.

 

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof tells of the trials of Big Daddy Pollitt and his family. Big Daddy, played by second year Ed Wheatley, is a cotton plantation owner, dying of cancer. His family, aware of the diagnosis, debate whether they should tell him or let him continue in his ignorance.

 

The play’s set – a bedroom flanked by window-doors opening onto a gallery – was beautifully constructed and set up in Hild Bede’s Caedmon Hall. Credit must go to Danielle Oliver and Henrique Rocha for dressing such a detailed, authentic set, as well as sourcing perfectly-coordinated costumes for each of the eleven cast members, the highlight of which must be the hideously matching dresses for the children, Trixie and Dixie (played by Jessica Siddell and Jessica Hodgson respectively). The play looked and felt every bit the stuffy, hot, Southern plantation and, combined with nearly impeccable accents and Rob Green’s sultry Jazz chords on the keyboard, I found myself transported often to the 50s Deep South.

 

The cast performed valiantly and with great dedication: running just over three hours long, I cannot stress how physically and emotionally exhausting it is to perform this play. However, the cast at times showed a depleting energy, which made the aforementioned monologues all the more arduous. Two welcome exceptions were the couple of Big Parents: Big Daddy and Big Mama, played by Castle’s Olivia Manning. The elderly duo not only provided certain welcome caricature-based comic relief at times, but also seemed to be one of the few to understand and express the nuances of Williams’ pained and tortured characters, evolving their characters naturally throughout the course of the story.

 

One particularly effective creative choice the team made was placing the entire cast in the shadows either side of the bedroom, gazing in at the scene in silence. The presence of the gossiping family and household was suffocating and almost immersive, and the calls and shouts from offstage blended in very naturally to the action on stage. Director Alex Hall’s eye did not fail him in arranging and coordinating the cast and set, and his aesthetic vision paid off.

 

In the end, with a combination of first night nerves, which at times slowed the dialogue down to a ponderous Southern drawl, as well as a slight lack of insight into the variety and energy of the speeches which make the play what it is, Hild Bede Theatre struggled to stage such a demanding show. Nevertheless, the show was aesthetically outstanding, and possessed moments of touching, captivating drama. HBT’s latest production just missed out on a tone of tense family drama, instead resulting in a slightly drawn-out emotional merry-go-round.

27 November 2014

The views expressed in the reviews and comments on this page are those of the reviewer, and are not representative of the views of DST or Durham University.
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