Reviewed by Matt Forrest
Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2
Last year, the Royal Exchange had for its autumn offering of Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie, (it was originally scheduled for the stage in 2020 but was temporarily shelved due to Covid-19). The production garnered huge commercial and critical success. Hoping that lighting will strike twice, the Royal Exchange has once again turned to the great American playwright to kick off their spring programme with another Williams’ classic, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.
Set over the course of one evening, the Pollit family has gathered at the huge family estate for their patriarch, Big Daddy’s (Patrick Robinson) double celebrations. First of all, it’s his 65th birthday, and secondly Big Daddy has received the news that he is cancer free following a health scare. However, the event isn’t the joyous affair one might expect.
First of all you have Big Daddy’s youngest son, Brick (Bayo Gbadamosi) a retired American Football star, who has recently injured his leg in an athletics accident, hobbling around on crutches. This is the least of his worries, for he has descended into alcoholism following the death of his close friend Skipper. Adding to his woes is his wife Maggie, (Ntombizoda Ndlovu). With the pair trapped in a loveless, sexless marriage, with Maggie desperate to reignite the flames of passion and restore the marriage to its former glory, and hopefully produce a child.
Other attendees at the party are Brick’s older, ambitious brother Gooper (Daniel Ward), his scheming wife, Mae (Danielle Henry), and their five children or “no necks” as they are comically referred to throughout. The final family member is Big Mama (Jacqui Dubois), Big Daddy’s wife, who is trying to hold the family together unaware that her overbearing nature is doing more harm than good.
This play follows a three-act structure, with the first undoubtedly belonging to Ntombizoda Ndlovu, as Maggie. She dives headfirst into Willams’ script with many, many monologues highlighting the troubles between her and Brick, and foreshadowing the drama that is about to unfold. It’s a mesmerising performance filled with heartbreak and humour, and one that will quite rightly earn Ntombizoda a great deal of plaudits.
The second act sees a standoff between Brick and Big Daddy, with a sombre, beautifully understated turn from Bayo Gbadamosi, going up against, powerhouse performance from Patrick Robinson, as the straight-talking father, ready to right his wrongs, for better or worse, now he has a new lease of life. Robinson, delivers some brutal dialogue with so much charisma, that you almost, (and I do stress almost ) side with Big Daddy.
The final act sees all the players gather for a restrained, darkly comedic showdown, which sees grievances aired and issues come to the fore. It may not be the big set-to, you would expect, the rather toned down conclusion is no less satisfying.
The production is not without flaws, the script is a seemingly never-ending torrent of monologues, which repeat the same thing over again, as Talking Heads said in the song Psycho Killer, “Say something once, why say it again?”. Whilst the play does offer an interesting take on mortality, grief, and wasted life to name but a few it certainly takes a long time making its point, some of Williams’ self-indulgent tendencies could do with a bloody good trim.
Director Roy Alexander Weise has done a fine job creating a claustrophobic environment for which this toxic group thrive in, as you would expect it’s a dramatic piece that never strays into melodrama and has more darkly comic humour than I certainly expected.
At over three hours long it’s a challenging watch, but one that rewards with enjoyable performances and some stringing lines of dialogue.
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is on at the Royal exchange till 29th April, tickets available here.