Review: Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, Dolman Theatre, Newport

Andy Howells reviews the final play of the 98th Newport Playgoers season at the Dolman Theatre.

There are many layers of creativity required when bringing a Tennessee Williams classic such as Cat On A Hot Tin Roof on to the stage. Placement and setting is integral to the piece and having witnessed the brilliance of director, Steve Bissex-Williams’ stage design on previous occasions, I had no doubt he would deliver the “seen to be believed” accuracy of a 1950s stylised bedroom within a Mississippi Delta plantation home.

However, the fact that the action is also set on a very warm afternoon, coinciding with one of our hottest weeks this year, may also suggest that divine intervention is overlooking this production of Cat On A Hot Tin Roof for extra effect.  The Dolman Theatre air conditioning thankfully kept the audience cool as Tennessee Williams multi-layered story exposing governing relationships and emotional lies within the fabric of a wealthy southern planter family of a wealthy southern planter gets underway.

It’s Big Daddy Pollitt’s 65th birthday and his two sons have returned home. While the eldest, Gooper, his expectant wife, Mae plus five “No Neck Monster” children model themselves as the ideal party family, younger brother, the ex-athlete, Brick has taken to the shelter of his room to drink away his depression accelerated by a recent leg injury, the death of a close friend, overbearing relatives and the sexual advances from his wife, Maggie.

As with many of Tennessee Williams’ plays, there is lots of strong dialogue immersed with passion and emotion. Here, it seems the Mississippi Delta heat is manifesting into a state of on-edge nervousness within the Pollitt family’s relationships, resulting in several metaphorical cat’s struggling to cling to their places on a hot tin roof.

As the play gets underway, Ellie Hoare gives an outstanding portrayal as the sexually repressed Maggie. There is lots of lengthy dialogue from Maggie of which Miss Hoare delivers with precision, pace and energy.  James Symonds’ powerful performance of Brick really comes into its own as he spurns his wife’s advances. Symonds delivers the necessary edginess as his character attempts to lose himself in the depths of a constantly topped up malt whiskey glass, before hitting an emotive crescendo as he realises his homosexual inclinations towards a deceased friend.

Steve Drowley’s Big Daddy thunders into the proceedings with effect mid-plot and the actor makes a high-quality performance with a role that sometimes says a lot without saying anything at all. Drowley’s reactions to other characters really make his performance for me, particularly his comical disdain for the overly rehearsed birthday tribute from “The No Neck Monsters” performed with brilliant effect by Carys Roberts (Dixie), Mason Hughes (Sonny), Leo Hughes (Buster) Holly Salter (Trixie) and Sophie Salter (Polly).

Several further comic moments soften the Cat On A Hot Tin Roof’s high drama, and these are enhanced when the heavy plot needs to come up for air by Catherine Roberts’ brilliant portrayal of the controlling Big Mama, Liz Keech’s fabulously overbearing Mae and Nick Brimble’s put-upon but short-fused Gooper. Roberts, Keech and Brimble provide much light to contrast with the necessary shade delivered by Hoare, Symonds and Drowley and bring a perfect balance to the production.

Phil Davies, Jase Kilby and Rob Jacob bring more to the unfolding narrative, while each cast member adds further authentication with an excellent Southern American drawl.

All the elements of perfect drama are observed in this presentation of Cat On A Hot Tin Roof. Anyone who wants to see Tennessee Williams performed with verve and precision would do well to catch this performance before the curtains of the Newport Playgoers 98th Season fall for the final time on Saturday.

For ticket availability – visit the Dolman Theatre website

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