Cat on a Hot Tin Roof review – giving Tennessee Williams new scope

Two sides of a family battle over land in Tennessee Williams’s 1955 Pulitzer prize-winning Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (produced as a film in 1958, with Elizabeth Taylor and Paul Newman). Big Daddy doesn’t know it yet, but he is dying. Big Mama doesn’t know either. Tonight, the children will tell her. Their eldest son, Gooper, and Gooper’s wife, Mae, are determined that they and their five children will inherit Big Daddy’s millions and his Mississippi plantation. Maggie, “the cat”, is equally determined that her husband, Brick, will inherit. Maggie’s problem is that Brick doesn’t care; he’s too busy looking for clarity at the bottle of a bottle, hiding from self-knowledge after the death of his “true friend”, Skipper.

For this new production, Roy Alexander Weise, one of the Royal Exchange’s two joint artistic directors, relocates the action to the present day, realises it with a predominantly black cast and gives it a symbolic setting that enlarges the scope of Williams’s naturalistic original.

The only piece of furniture, in the centre of a raised, circular parapet, is an unmade double bed (Milla Clarke’s design). As characters tussle over and around it, it becomes a potent image of sexuality and sexual identity; of the fecundity of life and the sterility of the grave. Effective in intimate scenes, it becomes an impediment in group encounters.

In a well-balanced ensemble, special mention to Ntombizodwa Ndlovu’s determined Maggie, Jacqui Dubois’s resilient but crumbling Big Mama and Patrick Robinson’s lean, life-hungry Big Daddy.