Now that I have to work in the evenings, I’m seeing a lot less theatre than I used to. I’ve spent a lot of time moaning about it, but not that much time actually finding ways around it, until last week when I plucked up the courage to attend a weekday matinee alone – and I couldn’t have picked a better show with which to start this tradition.
It was an afternoon of firsts, actually: my first time seeing a matinee, my first time attending alone, my first time seeing Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and my first time sitting on the front row at the theatre. It was also the first time I literally gasped as I walked in to the theatre, taking in the lavish set designed by Francis O’Connor. It seemed to pulse with potential – something was about to happen here. It’s a great testament to the skill of the cast that they managed to outshine that gorgeous stage. (My photo, taken hurriedly with an iPhone, does not do it justice in the slightest.)
The play opens with Brick and Maggie, who are at Brick’s family’s plantation in Mississippi to celebrate Big Daddy’s birthday. The second Maggie (Zoe Boyle) appeared on stage, I judged her in a kind of bored way. Ah, I thought, you’re the spoiled, vain girl with a lesson to learn. But as she sparred with the unresponsive, emotionally absent Brick, her façade crumbled and I started to see the desperate, ruthless and vulnerable person beneath. She certainly captured my attention where other characters failed. Meanwhile Jamie Parker’s Brick was a very powerful kind of negative presence, a black hole on the stage sucking in energy and emotion and giving nothing back. Their arguments – primarily Maggie monologue – were so real I found myself cringing back in my seat from the anger and heat.
As the night continues, we learn that it’s not only Brick and Maggie dealing in lies and subterfuge. Big Daddy, the smart but cruel and misogynistic patriarch of the family, believes he has received a clean bill of health, while his two sons know he has less than a year to live. Brick’s brother Gooper claims to want to help his father, but secretly has his eye on the plantation. As the pretence of a good natured family birthday party crumbles, both careful lies and careless truths come pouring out. The result is intense, gripping and richly rewarding. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about this play since I saw it! (It’s also been pretty tricky to shake the Deep South-style accent, which added an extra layer of claustrophobic tension on stage but just sounds ridiculous in Boots.)
I can’t help but recommend this beautiful production by Sarah Esdaile. It’s only on until Saturday 27th, so you don’t have much time! Book your tickets here, now – even if you have to go alone on a Thursday afternoon, you’ll be glad you did once you emerge, blinking from the theatre.
The Guardian are running a little project about theatre criticism alongside this production. You can read more about it here and if you’ve seen the play, tweet your thoughts and read other people’s reviews using the #catreview hashtag. You can also let me know what you thought about the production below – I’m interested to hear your thoughts!