The Pulitzer-prize winning Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is a Tennessee Williams classic: an exploration of sexuality and desperation set in 1955 in steamy Mississippi. The extended Politt family comes together to celebrate the birthday of patriarch ‘Big Daddy,’ and delve into deep-seated and sometimes hidden strife within their interpersonal relationships.
The play is staunchly naturalistic; there is a lot of talking, both lengthy monologue and chatty dialogue all delivered in a deep Mississippi drawl. I would argue that to perform a Tennessee Williams text requires a style of straightforward, natural acting that is difficult to achieve at an amateur or student level, and when missing leaves the play in the realm of melodrama. Leitheatre’s production features valiant actors, gorgeous era-appropriate costumes, and copious levels of passion and drama, but it ultimately falls a bit short and ends up a bit awkward for the audience.
The production’s mise en scène was impressive, and successfully created the traditional, stuffy atmosphere of the Southern plantation on a sweltering day. A special highlight of the performance came from fiddle player Campbell Moffat, whose tuneful accompaniment as audience entered the auditorium and during the intermission aptly established the play’s cultural setting. It was a special touch that lent an air of excitement to the performance and was fantastically executed.
The costume design by Allison Naismith and Maggie King was convincingly period and each piece suited its actor. The set, which was designed by Derek Blackwood, while it looked more like a theatre set than a legitimate room in a household and could have been more polished, had many different elements including doorways leading to a passageway in the back that facilitated the action of the play perfectly and again aided in building atmosphere and setting.
The cast, led by Nicole Nadler as Maggie “The Cat,” and Kevin Rowe as Brick gave heartfelt performances that were hindered by the difficulty of achieving the Southern affectation and an unforgiving script, which leaves no room for breaking from naturalistic acting. Hamish Hunter as Big Daddy and Phyllis Ross as Big Mama delivered the production’s stand-out performances and most impressive accents and portrayed strong, vivid emotions that never became too maudlin.
The production also featured several child performers who brightened the mood and were suitably brash and active; however, director Mike Paton could have done more to incorporate their interludes and outbursts (sometimes heard from offstage) into the narrative in a way that felt less abrupt.
Leitheatre’s production, while ambitious and earnest, could have done with some finessing, and maybe an accent coach! Paton’s vision stayed true to the source material and succeeded in bringing a Southern classic to rainy Edinburgh and a new generation of viewers.
PHOTO: Marion Donohoe