London’s National Theatre has revived a much loved Tennessee Williams masterpiece. “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” is currently playing in the West End, but for those located a bit more on the… peripherals (?) selected cinemas are holding National Theatre Live screenings. Oh happy days!
I had never witnessed a theatre screening before so all I had to build expectations were the grainy, shaky, camera-on-a-tripod videos of my own university performances. This live screening had no homemade-camcorder-dance-mom essence about it. This was the real deal. Of course, I would have much rather been there in person to soak up the atmosphere and smell the actors. But alas, we get what we’re given.
I read the play in preparation for Benedict Andrews interpretation. This is most likely down to my shitty script analysis skills but compared to viewing the performance, I absorbed a fraction of this play from reading it. Similar to Bell Shakespeare’s most recent interpretation of “Antony and Cleopatra” the play is presently set in the lavishly upholstered and plushly carpeted world of the upper class. The family living under the patriarch of Big Daddy reminded me of the central family in the television show “Claws.” I’m starting to see that most art is inspired and I love it.
You could put this down to the fact that I watched it on a screen, or that it’s Tennessee Williams, but the whole ordeal was so deliciously filmic. The actors sublime subtitles were not missed thanks to those vivid closeups. I’m seeing this everywhere now, but Larry Moss was so spot on when he said, “the answer is always in the script.” Maggie (Sienna Miller) says to Brick (Jack O’Connell), “you look so cool, so cool, so enviably cool.” Never have I seen a cooler character on the stage or screen than O’Connell’s Brick. Scrupulous with his words and movements, we pay vigilant attention when he does choose to honour us with his thoughts. We see a constant, strained internal battle behind Bricks eyes; the struggle to flick that “mechanical switch” in his brain, by means of alcohol, so he can be at peace.
What absolutely blew me away were the astonishing voices of the actors. Big Mama’s (Lisa Palfrey) baby voice is perhaps a frugal attempt to keep herself young and attractive for Big Daddy (Colm Meaney). Going deeper, it reflects her denial of reality; she is no longer young and Big Daddy never did find her attractive. Maggie’s strained and, at times, rough voice was a perceptive window into her “dirt poor” past; its weathered quality revealed she had been through tough times but it’s sharpness showed she was constantly on her front foot with her finger on the pulse. It was a huge indication of her identity; Maggie the fighter. Maggie the street cat.
Each characters demise is absolutely devastating to witness. The irony is perhaps their down falls were easily avoided had they ceased their denial of reality. The incredible actors and the genius of Williams help us see, when the facade occasionally cracks, each character is indeed aware of their truths. We could argue that an example of this is Gooper (Brian Gleeson) and Mae (Hayley Squires) knowing that Big Daddy does not love them, nor their children, and they foster no love for him in return. Yet they insist the opposite. It is a sad, sad, calamitous play and we are consistently presented with the familiar trap of denial. Yet, perhaps, watching Maggie the fighter claw her way towards her intentions can impart a residual strength to an audience.
I recall reading a stage direction concerning the characters all talking over each other at once as if they were birds in a cage. Maggie has a line, “I’m not living with you. We occupy the same cage, that’s all.” At the end of the play the set does indeed resemble a bird cage needing to be cleaned out; ice, cake and glass litter the once luxurious carpet. A cage is an unnatural, artificial environment to keep such a number of living creatures. Eventually they’ll start pecking at each other. Throw a cat in there too? Who do you think would win?