Writer: Tennessee Williams
Director: Mike Paton
Reviewer: Edie Ranvier
Tennessee Williams’ story of mendacity, passion and repression in the American South has been seeing its popularity renewed of late, notably with last year’s Young Vic production starring Sienna Miller and Jack O’Connell. This year, Edinburgh theatre company Leitheatre give their own take on the play – and, for this reviewer’s money, do it better.
Nicole Nadler is compelling in the tough role of Maggie, the “cat” of the title. Sensuous and feline in her movements and drawing out both the malicious wit and the desperation of her character, she holds her audience through her monstrously difficult opening monologue, and has them onside thereafter. Her chemistry with her in-laws (Hamish Hunter and Phyllis Ross) is especially well-played: there’s a real sense of long-grown intimacy between her and Ross’ Big Mama, complementing her flirtatious by-play with Hunter’s Big Daddy.
Kevin Rowe, as Brick, feels a bit old to play the 27-year old athlete whose looks still drive Maggie wild; and while his indifference to her comes across in his interactions with Nadler in the opening act, the audience gets less of a feel for the danger in Brick, the suppressed violence and anger that spasmodically flash through the alcohol. When he lunges for Maggie with his crutch and topples onto the floor, it’s comical rather than frightening, where it ought to be both.
Rowe comes into his own more in his scene with Big Daddy: the account that his father extracts from him of his part in the death of his friend Skipper is moving and understated, and Rowe finds a balance between stoked anger and instant contrition at the awful moment when he tells his father the truth of his cancer diagnosis, which renders his cruelty at once plausible and forgivable.
Hunter himself gives a rich performance (so to speak) as the patriarchal cotton tycoon, starting off rebarbative as he lambasts his wife, then revealing more lights and shades in the tolerance and perceptiveness of his scenes with Brick. Ross, as Big Mama, is funny and devoted, though her performance is particularly strong in the first half of the play where ideally that strength should come through in the closing scenes, as she loyally refuses to collude in the machinations for Big Daddy’s estate.
Meanwhile Pat Hymers and Debra May are suitably nasty as Gooper and Mae, Brick’s scheming elder brother and his wife. May in particular has fun with her character’s snide self-righteousness as she needles Maggie and conducts her children in twee tableaux intended to impress Big Daddy – though Leitheatre could usefully borrow another couple of kids, to complete the set of the five “no-neck monsters” whom Maggie rails against.
The flow wavers occasionally, and there are a few missed lines, perhaps unsurprisingly in so wordy a play. Overall, though, it’s an absorbing production of an American classic, by a company which succeeds in drawing out the nuance and complexities of the relationships between this troubled family.
Runs until 18 May 2019 | Image: Contributed