Cat on a Hot Tin Roof review – powerhouse performances

By Clare Brennan
Peter Forbes (Big Daddy) and Oliver Johnstone (Brick) in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.
‘Terrifying intensity’: Peter Forbes, left, as Big Daddy with Oliver Johnstone (Brick) in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Photograph: Marc Brenner

In this new production of Tennessee Williams’s Pulitzer-winning play, the standout role is Big Daddy, the self-made patriarch, boasting of his 28,000 acres of most fertile land “this side of the Nile”, delivered in a performance of terrifying intensity and clarity by Peter Forbes, who seems to show us not only the man but also his struggling soul.

Big Daddy’s children and grandchildren are gathered in the family’s Mississippi mansion home, ostensibly to celebrate his 65th birthday. Big Daddy and his wife of 40 years, Big Mama, are also celebrating the recently delivered news that he is not dying of cancer.

Big Daddy’s two sons and daughters-in-law know the news is false. If the audience didn’t already realise this, Forbes’s entrance makes it clear. Big Daddy believes he will live, but his body is telling him – and us – otherwise. Hollowed out, moving only by power of will, his eyes blaze, his voice roars, but both hands keep reaching for the support of the tabletop. In Big Daddy’s conversation with his broken-ankled, alcoholic son, Brick, we see the father’s dawning understanding of what his son is hiding from – Brick’s fear that he was homosexually attracted to his best friend and responsible for his death (Oliver Johnstone here uncovering the complexity of the character). Through tiny pauses, turns of the head, squinting of eyes, Forbes shows Big Daddy grasp for some deeper truth within his own experience, as well. A man facing death finally confronting the mystery of life.

Other characters are not so fully realised, athough all achieve moments of intensity, especially in the closing scenes (to name one: Siena Kelly’s Maggie the cat, fighting for Brick and for herself). Anthony Almeida’s direction emphasises concept over content, allowing Rosanna Vize’s striking, non-realist design to dominate the action. Almeida is a tyro director. He clearly has vision but hasn’t, here, found its full dramatic expression.


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