|Newman & Taylor, Charleson & Duncan, Boyle & Parker (photo credit: Keith Pattison/PR), O'Connell & Miller (photo credit: Johan Persson)|
The first time I saw Tennessee Williams’s Cat on a hot tin roof was a TV showing during my teenage years of the 1958 film version starring Elizabeth Taylor, Paul Newman and Burl Ives. I have memories of the power of the character of “Maggie the cat” and remember the row between father and son where the climax was a declaration that love is what matters, but I was definitely too young to fully understand the adult bitchiness, secrets, tensions and manipulations that Williams had poured into the relationships. Of course, back in the 1970s, what I didn’t know is that the screenplay was effectively a censored version of the play, removing much of the play’s subversive (for the times) text.
|Newman/Taylor (SNAP/Rex Features), Cast of Young Vic production (photo credit: Johan Persson), Charleson and Duncan (photo credit: Mike Hollist/Daily Mail/Rex Features)|
“We’re through with lies and liars in this house.”
In March 1988 at Bradford Alhambra I saw the touring production of Howard Davies’s National Theatre production designed by William Dudley and starring Lindsay Duncan as Maggie, Ian Charleson as Brick, Alison Steadman as Mae, Barbara Leigh-Hunt as Big Mama and Eric Porter as Big Daddy. I hadn’t cottoned on to the reputations of any of these actors so I just took the play at face value and remember being awestruck by the lyrical beauty and viciousness of Williams’s dialogue and felt gobsmacked/heartsmacked/soulsmacked by the actors’ ability to present flayed ugly reality in full view of an audience, but in characters that were yearning for connections and love and truth.
|School production of Streetcar with Lois Taylor, Joe Layton and Clare Kelly (photo credit: Dale Wain) and the three main women in the Young Vic production: Hayley Squires, Sienna Miller and Lisa Palfrey (photo credit: Johan Persson)|
“I’m not living with you. We occupy the same cage.”
Fast forward to October 2012 and Sarah Esdaile’s production in the Quarry theatre with Zoe Boyle as Maggie, Jamie Parker as Brick and Richard Cordery as Big Daddy. The design by Francis O’Connor suggested the text’s “twentyeight thousand acres of the richest land this side of the valley Nile….. Victorian with a touch of the Far East.” Paul Pyant’s Lighting and Mic Pool’s Sound dripped with the heat of summer. By now I’d taught Streetcar Named Desire and seen both that play and Suddenly Last Summer, Camino Real, The Glass Menagerie, Orpheus Descending and taught and directed a student production of Streetcar. I’d also read Tennesse Williams’s kaleidoscopic memoir and read enough biographical detail to understand his own self and his own family were the main “copy” in his work. His alcoholic father, his volatile mother, his lobotomised sister, his repressed sexuality, his health problems, anxieties and dreams - all feverishly emerged in his stage characters and situations. But from where was the poetry and the vision? His innate genius, I suppose.
|Top two photos of West Yorkshire Playhouse production; photo credits: Keith Pattison/PR. Other photos by John Persson of the Young Vic production|
“What is the victory of a cat on a hot tin roof? – I wish I knew…. Just staying on it, I guess, as long as she can….”
And so to last night to see the NTLive broadcast of the Young Vic production by Benedict Andrews designed by Magda Willi. Sienna Miller was a feline Maggie, Jack O’Connell was a crumbling Brick, Colm Meaney a domineering Big Daddy, Hayley Squires a desperate Mae and Lisa Palfrey a heartbreaking Big Mama. The rest of the cast and production values were equally evocative in my opinion – evocative of Williams’s study of “Mendacity” – the lies we tell to remain a part of civilised society when all the time we are festering with shameful desires…. a perfect play to watch in this time of fake news and bare-faced political lying. Something about the two central performances in this version suggested to me there was hope at the end. “Wouldn’t it be funny if that was true?” says Brick to Maggie as she embarks on a determined baby-making campaign…. the way Sienna Miller played it I thought “it is true, there is hope, life will find a way.”
|Jack O'Connell and Sienna Miller in photos by Johan Persson|