Apollo Theatre, London – until 7 October 2017
“The human animal is a beast that dies but the fact that he’s dying don’t give him pity for others” … Whatever the reasons behind the decision to open Benedict Andrews’ Cat On A Hot Tin Roof directly into the West End, a first for the Young Vic, you can’t help suspect that it has been informed by the extraordinary success of their 2014 collaboration on A Streetcar Named Desire. Equally, it is tempting to feel the play would be better off on The Cut, the better for its intimacy to really sizzle.
There’s certainly the attempt to raise the temperature – Andrews has his leads Jack O’Connell and Sienna Miller in various states of undress for large swathes of the play – but for all the skin exposed, there’s little sexuality between Tennessee Williams‘ central couple, the reasons for which are painstakingly revealed later on. And ultimately it is a disconnect that reads better than it plays.
The play has been uprooted to an undefined, vaguely contemporary time and space but where, say, van Hove’s A View From The Bridge made that feel truly elemental, here certain decisions impose a weird sense of specificity – mobile phones, that poor cake. That said, the unrelenting glistening of Magda Willi’s superbly gaudy design creates a peculiarly apt kind of prison for this troubled family.
In there, O’Connell’s Brick battles his twin demons of alcoholism and the well of repressed feeling fuelling it, and Miller’s Maggie prowls in desperate search for the connection she craves. Quite why the Mississippi accents of the original are maintained is unsure, especially since both have their struggles with it, but both respond well to the physical and psychological challenges of their roles.
Colm Meaney also impresses as Big Daddy, the ailing patriarch whose birthday celebrations the play centres around, a crucial scene with Brick is packed with emotive power, and there’s strong, detailed work from the smaller characters – Lisa Palfrey, Hayley Squires and Brian Gleeson as the ‘lesser’ family members all with a beady and greedy eye on the finer details of how the estate will be bequeathed.
But for all the directorial intervention here, this Cat… rarely feels like the distillation of the play it is aiming to be; instead there’s something of an ungainliness to its effortfulness and for me, it feels ill-suited to the space. I’d much rather be seeing it at the Young Vic itself where everyone might just be a little more chilled out about the whole thing.