‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof’ is Tennessee Williams best-known play. Williams, who was born in 1911, is considered one of the top three writers of the 20th century. Williams’ sister, Rose, was a schizophrenic, ultimately forced to undergo a frontal lobotomy on instructions from their mother, Edwina. Horrified, Williams became his sister’s caretaker.
His writing style is to slowly develop and release the personae of his characters. In the end, the people who originally appeared to be the ‘average man in the street’ are found to be complex with difficult lives.
This two and a quarter hour classic can be seen at the Stirling Theatre, Morris Place, Innaloo, at 8.00 each night until Saturday 25th April.
Set designer, Jane Sherwood, has completely stripped the stage of proscenium curtains and wings’ flats. This has allowed her create the huge, luxurious guest bedroom of the 28,000 acre Mississippi mansion. The room walls are of fine muslin drapes allowing the audience to see into the passageway behind, and the balcony overlooking the lush garden (backdrop painted by Gabriel Dahmen).
There has been a huge amount of work put into the set by Michael Stronach, Les Farrell, Lisa Matthews, Callum Santiago, Ron Arthurs and Richard Mananga. The well managed props and children courtesy of stage manager, Carla Griffiths.
The lighting and sound designs are by James Wilson, operated by Callum Calder and Ian Wilson. For decades community productions have used the on / off fader for the sound and lighting, no subtlety or ‘50 shades of light’. However, recently, stereo sound effects have become the norm, with birds singing where the garden is, the sound of the telephone ringing from the position of the ‘phone; seems a basic expectation, but for years the sounds even came from a poorly positioned speaker at the side of the auditorium. In this show, a great deal of work has been put into these visual and sound effects, there were even a few quiet and non-intrusive notes, when Big Daddy made a powerful statement.
The costumes were excellent, reflecting the wearer’s character and the era (Bree Vreedenburgh).
Big Daddy (Ron Arthurs) is shouting for his black manservant, Lacey (Richard Mananga) to hurry with the wine. The guests are gathering for the 65th birthday of this self-made millionaire.
The once charming Brick (Michael Dornan) is the favourite son of the family. He is considered by Big Mama (Dimity Wehr), a mother who seems to be permanently in denial of what is happening in her family, and Brick’s nervous wife, Maggie (Amanda Watson), as the perfect man. Brick formerly showed textbook masculinity and as being untouchable, however, severely depressed at the death of his best friend Skipper, Brick hides behind his endless stream of liquor. Could he have had a homosexual attraction for Skipper? A desire that he keeps in abeyance, a topic to avoid discussing with Big Daddy.
Whilst hurdling at school, Brick broke his ankle, considered by Maggie as the start of his broken life. Over the years, Maggie has become bitter as she desperately wants children, but it is eons since Brick and her made love. Maggie, the play’s the ‘cat’, a semi-hysterical, anxious and dissatisfied woman, because of Brick’s indifference to her womanly demands. Inexplicably bound to her man, Maggie has tried undressing seductively, posing in front of the mirror, but Brick is unmoved.
When her Brick’s brother, high flying attorney, Gooper (Craig Edwards) and his haughty, malicious wife, ‘the monster of fertility’, Mae (Gael Campbell-Young) take great joy in pointing out that they have a brood of ‘wonderful’ children, and that Maggie is still virginal, the atmosphere is acrid. The young tactless, Reverend Tooker (Damian Forbes) is horrified at the family feuds, but hypocritically ignores them.
Gooper and Mae’s litter of ‘no-neck’ children are repeatedly forced to perform for Big Daddy, as they try to oust Brick and ingratiate themselves as sole beneficiaries in Big Daddy’s Will. Daddy is no fool, he sees through this, still preferring the younger son – or as Mama says – ‘the only son’, still hoping that Maggie will produce the much wanted grandson.
When Dr Baugh (Brett Shircore) arrives with the results of Daddy’s latest health check, to save Mama’s feelings, Gooper tells Mama that her Daddy has a spastic colon and not cancer as previously thought.
Assuming that he is in fine health, good for another twenty years, Daddy takes Brick aside and bullyingly challenges him to face up to life, just as he, Daddy, has had to suffer the miserable bitch that has been his wife for 45 years.
What will happen? Will jealous Gooper or alcoholic Brick win; will sexually frustrated, unloved Maggie or the bitch of the century, Mae triumph? Alternatively, will they all be losers?
‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof’ is one of these plays that looks like a good basic story, and on two the five occasions that I have seen this play, it has been presented as a simple interesting story. It has in fact a great number of hidden meanings, symbolism and subtleties often missed by the directors and cast. The size of the audio console, the double bed, Brick’s crutch etc all have much more meaning than is seen at first. Thirty percent of this play can be enjoyed without knowing the full meaning of Tennessee’s script, but when produced correctly the full 100% power of the story blows you away. This production under the skilful direction of award winning Jane Sherwood was a 100% job.
The children, Buster (James Matthews), Dixie (Lakeesha Motbey), Trixie (Colette Campbell) and Sonny (Charlie Motbey) were wonderful. How often does one see children who are wooden puppets, mouthing a few monotonic words that only a devoted Grandparent would appreciate? Well these kids gave it their all. They sang beautifully and truly acted. Even 6 years old, Charlie had his few seconds of fame.
I have seen Amanda Watson act hilarious comedy, and yet here she heartbreaking plays the wife that has been cast aside. Every muscle in her body and face expressed her feelings. Her accent is perfect for the Deep South. This has to be the performance of the year. Let us hope that the bigger Perth theatre companies ‘discover’ her soon, a fabulous actress.
Michael Dornan, another actor known for his comedy, showed every emotion of the alcoholic struggling to come to terms with the loss of the only person he ever cared for. Michael literally threw himself into the part, crashing to the floor repeatedly. Ron, as Big Daddy, was the first Daddy since Burl Ives to demonstrate the real psychological and physical power over Brick, to be omnipotent in his own home. Dimity was wonderful as the loving mother, who could have quite a sting in the tail when she wanted.
I know I normally praise the programme when there is nothing else to like, but Fran Gordon’s full colour programme has a font easy to read, and good clear photos so essential for knowing which actor is which. Bree Vreedenburgh’s poster was most clever, encompassing the mood and fiery atmosphere of the play.
One of the best versions of this play that I have seen, that is including the professional productions. Outstanding, not a weak link in sight. Plenty of WOW factor.