With a well known play like Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof being put on, there is a sense of occasion and hype. A sense the production team capitalised on by putting posters of Madeleine Inskeep’s Maggie all around town – I had a double take on catching the one in Aikmans on my way out. And so, with a play that generates a substantial level of interest and hype, the main question that needs asking is: did the production live up to it?
On the whole, Bennett Bonci’s production succeeds admirably. The fabulous set and general atmosphere immediately felt immersive and the 601 venue managed to effectively evoke the hot South whilst outside it was a slightly colder St Andrews evening. The tension was also palpable and hung like static in almost every character interaction, particularly in the first and second acts, capturing the titular image of characters hanging on like a cat on a hot tin roof. Williams may lay the metaphor on heavily but the cast lived up to it and the suspense and agitation that it should ideally bring was certainly there.
The script itself poses a few other challenges. The outcome is essentially a done deal even by the start of the play. Big Daddy (Noah Liebmiller) was always going to die and he was never really going to give the plantation to his older son Gooper. And so the challenge is to show the journey to an essentially inevitable outcome as engaging and emotionally powerful. This production did that. However, Act 3 I felt did not live up to the set-up promised in the first and second act; indeed, the tension seemed to drop down a notch when multiple characters got involved, which was a shame because at the start of Act 2 there was a real sense of tension when all the characters were present for Big Daddy’s birthday. If that kind of atmosphere had been carried over it could have been so much better. The end was also in danger of just fizzing out; I did not really feel the connection in the final words between Maggie (Madeline Inskeep) and Brick (Louis Catliff) and the play just seemed to stop without any real emotional tug.
Having said this, Inskeep and Catliff were superb in their interactions in Act 1, although Brick drank nearly a comical amount of alcohol that left me honestly surprised he could stand with a crutch by the end. And Big Daddy’s conversation with Brick in Act 2 was easily the highpoint of the play. The realistic back and forth and breaking of both characters was portrayed very well. Here, Noah Liebmiller gave the production’s outstanding performance as the family patriarch who elicited both sympathy and a strong perception of stature and influence. The moment when he realised he had been lied to and that his future was gone was very powerful; you felt the force of a big man becoming small. Other actors who were particularly of note were Inskeep as Maggie, whose cattiness and fragility allowed the audience to enter into her vulnerability completely, and Eilidh Mackinnon’s Big Mama whose appropriately big character was wonderful to watch and her breakdown and struggle to keep control suitably poignant. Jack Briggs, in his small role as Reverend Tooker, should also be mentioned for managing to elicit a laugh almost every time he spoke but without overly detracting from the main narrative.
The overarching feel of the piece was immersive. Bonci’s production sucked me in, and despite a few wavering accents, the job of audience transportation had been done convincingly. But, as we meandered towards the end, the energy that had made the start so fantastically engaging was drifting. This notwithstanding, I think most of the hype was justified and the cast and crew should be congratulated on a thoroughly engaging piece of theatre.