Friday, 11 August 2017

Cat on a hot tin roof

Sienna sizzles with sultry southern sass in Benedict Andrews’ revival of the Tennessee Williams classic

Written by Ian Shuttleworth

I once described a certain actor’s performance as being like ‘school- play acting ... the kind that believes that acting skill is solely a matter of energy and that just giving a good belt to every line, gesture and mug will see things through.’ That actor was Sienna Miller, and that was 12 years ago. In Benedict Andrews’ revival of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, the energy remains, but it now has an assurance and control that takes her right to the heart of her character. ian

Miller is Maggie, frustrated wife of Brick, former high-school sports star-turned-commentator, alcoholic and, possibly, self- denying homosexual... come on, this is Tennessee Williams, so that doesn’t count as a spoiler. He never buries his characters’ depths all that deep. Miller, however, gives Maggie a complexity and sardonicism seldom seen in the character, as well as heroically carrying a first act in which she does virtually all the talking while Brick broods, under a shower (right on stage, unobscured) or wrapped in a towel. All this, plus a deep south accent that makes Vivien Leigh sound like Ray Winstone. Whereas Jack O’Connell (This is England, Skins, Unbroken) as Brick just sounds like Ray Winstone.

That’s unfair; O’Connell’s accent settles down in his second-act duet with Colm Meaney’s unusually compassionate Big Daddy, but for much of the first act he’s little more than a taciturn presence and a bunch of out-of-place tattoos. I’m fine with colour-blind, even gender-blind casting, but for some reason I draw the line (ha) at tat-blind. Even in a play-world where Big Mama makes calls on her mobile, Maggie cues music on her iPad and both she and Brick appear stark naked, he surely wouldn’t have such coarsely executed inkings, never mind one which proclaims (legibly from row N) ‘JACK THE LAD’.

It’s to his credit that he successfully rows back from such unfavourable beginnings. Andrews must surely also take some tribute. The Australian- born director likes reinventing playing space – he’s the man who put Gillian Anderson on a rotating stage in A Streetcar Named Desire a few years ago at the Young Vic (under whose auspices this West End revival also takes place). This time, though, the stage is bare and enclosed by three high walls of brushed metal, like the tin roof of the title. Right at the front lip of the stage sit a full-size plastic sack of ice cubes, several tumblers and four bottles of whiskey, of which three are polished off in the course of the proceedings. But the real laurels here, as she uncovers and tries to respond to the various guilts and ‘mendacities’ of the family, go to Maggie and to Miller.

Until 7 October at the Apollo Theatre, London W1: 0330-333 4809, 

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