Cat On A Hot Tin Roof

Maidment Theatre, Auckland

10/07/2008 - 02/08/2008

Production Details

Big Daddy is dying, the vultures are circling …

Sizzling with verbal fireworks, savage humour and sexual friction, CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF is a timeless, indelible portrait of a wealthy Mississippi clan.

"There are few playwrights who plumb the human heart so deeply" – The Daily Telegraph

Surrounded by greedy relatives, over bearing in-laws and hyperactive children, Maggie "The Cat" forces her disinterested husband Brick to confront the secrets and lies of their tempestuous marriage.

"A delicately wrought exercise in human communication… as theatre, it is superb" – The New York Times

Smoldering with sensuality, avarice and hypocrisy CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF is a masterpiece of American drama.

Gareth Reeves Brick Politt
Toni Potter Maggie "The Cat" Politt
Stuart Devenie Harvey "Big Daddy" Politt
Alison Quigan Ida "Big Mama" Politt
Paul Glover Cooper "Gooper" Politt
Jacque Drew Mae Pollit
Goretti Chadwick Servant
Peter Daube Reverend Tooker
Michael Keir-Morrissey Doctor Baugh
Edward Peni Servant
Children Ariana Brunet, Camryn Dyson, Courtney Dyson, Brooke Norton, Jack Lockhart, Francis Dale

Set & Lighting Design Tony Rabbit
Costume Design Nic Smillie
Sound Design John Gibson

Production Manager Mark Gosling
Technical Manager Bonnie Burrill
Senior Stage Manager Nicola Blackman
Stage Manager Sonia Hardie
Assistant Stage Manager Mitchell Turei
Operator Robert Hunte
Properties Master Bec Ehlers
Set Construction 2 Contstruct
Patternmaker Sheila Horton
Costume Construction Tureya Healey-Diaz
Designer's Assistant Briony Langmead
Director's Assistant Yael Gezentsvey (Secondment - UNITEC)
Child Chaperone Jan Saussey
Dialect Coach Jacque Drew

2 hrs 20 mins, incl. interval

Competent rather than stunning

Review by Renee Liang 17th Jul 2008

In this revival of the classic play by Tennessee Williams, the action is transposed from a 1950’s Missipippi river estate to a modern day “hotel”, complete with designer furniture (promoted in the programme!), plastic walls and obeisant hotel staff. The reasons for this staging decision are never entirely justified, and I found myself confused as to which era this play was set – the dialogue and themes seeming to refer more to the original 1950’s while the set and soundtrack suggested a contemporary setting. Apart from this distraction, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof retains its original power as a study in human relationships, focussing on two pairs in particular: frigid Brick and his lustful wife Maggie, and Brick and his dying father, the patriarch Big Daddy.

Maggie, played by a husky-voiced Toni Potter, is a woman in her prime: emotionally and sexually thwarted by her husband Brick, a former sports star who is physically and emotionally injured. It takes most of the play to reveal why Brick (as stubborn and taciturn as his name suggests) is shutting Maggie out. Gareth Reeves conveys Brick’s emotions effectively in the lift of an eyebrow or sip of a glass, whilst Potter, in a nearly continuous 45-minute harangue, is effective in alternately seducing and repelling the audience as we learn more about Maggie’s background and her precarious position as the poor outsider in a rich family, the “cat on a hot tin roof”. This powerful image is used repeatedly throughout the play, uniting the big-picture themes of greed, love and deceit.

Pace was an issue in the first half. Forty five minutes is a long time to hold an audience in a single scene and occasionally Potter seems to struggle to hold Maggie on track, resorting to what looks like highly uncomfortable poses atop the giant sofa. However, when Potter and Reeves are joined by the other actors in Act II, the plot gains momentum and soon becomes compelling.

Big Daddy, who we are prepared to dislike before his entrance in Act II, is given a sympathetic and powerfully understated portrayal by Stuart Devenie. The scene in which he has a long conversation with Brick, forcing him to confront his own demons, is powerful and absorbing. Alison Quigan does a wonderfully comedic turn as Big Mamma and pulls off some of the best lines in the play as well. Her “you do love me, don’t you?” to Big Daddy allows her a rare moment of pathos. Paul Glover and Jacque Drew do an efficient job of portraying repulsive characters who finally get their comeuppance, and their “no-neck” brood is cutely played by child actors who all get their own lines. I found it sad that Goretti Chadwick and Edward Peni, who have proven their acting prowess in other productions, were given roles that amounted to being extras – and what was with the brown people being the servants? Was this supposed to reference the racism of the old South? Yet another confusing thing that didn’t allow me to ground the play in any single time and place.

The use of American accents was distracting because of their patchiness – some cast members affecting a full southern drawl while others had the lightest of rounded r’s superimposed on a Kiwi accent. Accents sometimes unexpectedly dropped out. Given the transposition to an indistinct time and place, I wonder whether they were even necessary.

The set and lighting design by Tony Rabbit was innovative, with layers of plastic sheeting showing people walking through other spaces, approaching or watching. This was intended to be a metaphor for the layers of mendacity and obfuscation, and to a large extent it worked well, though seeing other characters wander past in the middle of an intense exchange could be distracting if not confusing.

All in all, a competent, rather than stunning, interpretation of an old masterwork – but one that should hold audiences long enough for Williams’ words to work their magic.

Originally published in The Lumière Reader.



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‘Cat’ a hot production half a century on from Broadway debut

Review by Paul Simei-Barton 14th Jul 2008

Fifty-three years after the Broadway premiere of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Auckland Theatre Company’s revival of the American classic eloquently affirms that Tennessee Williams still matters.

The production opens in grand style with Johnny Cash singing Bird on a Wire while a blaze of red light plays across the translucent surfaces of Tony Rabbit’s dazzlingly beautiful set. The ambience is a million miles from the original Dixieland setting but the combination of world-weary melancholy and sumptuous luxury sets the right tone for the play’s ruthless dissection of the all-American family. [More]


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A solid classic

Review by Nik Smythe 13th Jul 2008

Brick is a troubled young ex-sports hero who drinks, and has broken his leg recently in a drunken hurdling escapade.  Maggie, his estranged yet determined and devoted wife, never stops trying to break through Brick’s impenetrable wall.  Brick’s father, known to all as Big Daddy, who’s turning sixty five this night, is not in the best of health to say the least, and Brick’s older brother Gooper has plans to take over Big Daddy’s gigantic cotton plantation, the largest in Mississippi. 

The first three quarters of the story is centred by Brick’s (Gareth Reeves) deflection and blocking of everything and anything anyone tries to tell him or get him to do – especially the frustrated and infuriated Maggie the cat (Toni Potter), who lived in abject poverty before marrying into the Pollit empire.  She makes no apology or secret of her gold digging agenda, yet is equally if not more emphatic that her love for Brick is genuine and complete.

Reeves shows us a stoically masculine yin to Potters’ assertively feminine yang.  Their effort and skill, supported by the quality of the dialogue, carry the play through a fairly pedestrian first hour, in which potential levels of intensity and depth of emotion are touched but not really maintained. The other characters are only glimpsed in the first half, and Reeves and Potter work hard to generate an engagingly dysfunctional relationship.

Important issues are discussed, such as Big Daddy’s medical test results and the future of the family’s vast fortune, but underpinning all is Brick’s incessant drinking, and the underpinning cause of that – something about his best friend Skipper’s suicide, the ultimate cause of that… These layers of reasons behind reasons behind reasons paint the picture of an inescapable gauntlet of crippling despair.

Act two introduces Big Daddy (Stuart Devenie) and has the rest of the family come into play more directly.  Devenie delivers a masterful portrait of the powerful patriarch, weakened by age and illness yet still fearsome, willful and ultimately wise.  Alison Quigan’s Big Mama, mother of Brick and the absurdly square Gooper, also rings of theatrical excellence.  Paul Glover inhabits the browbeaten, hardworking double crossing Gooper convincingly.

Also great are Peter Daube’s fruitily pious Reverend Tooker and Michael Kier-Morrisey’s drunken lech of a GP, Doctor Baugh.  Plus whichever three of the six children playing Gooper and Mae’s "little no-neck monsters" on alternating dates through the season (Ariana Brunett, Francis Dale, Brooke Norton, Camryn Dyson, Courtney Dyson and Jack Lockhard) are effectively lovable and appalling, and one can’t help but consider Gooper and Mae to be responsible for the latter.

In this production of Tennessee Williams’ well worn classic, written over 50 years ago, the setting has been shifted from the family estate to a modern day six or seven star hotel.  The whole production design has a distinctly fantastical look, set and lights both courtesy of Tony Rabbit.  The giant sized square white leather lounge suite and large fluorescent drinks bar are more reminiscent of the extravagant yuppie stylings of the 80s than the less gauche but similarly affluent 50s when it was originally written. 

The surrounding stage area is covered with multiple folds and layers of sheer transparent plastic curtains, played upon with twinkling lights which in turn reflect  The stunning effect seems suggestive of the blurred layers of Brick’s mind with the hotel suite, where the alcohol’s located, at the centre. 

Nic Smillie’s costume design also fits the theme of affluence out of control; men in pastel suits and loud ties, Big Mama’s ostentatious orange on orange ensemble, etc.  Brick and Maggie are the only characters with truly dignified dress sense besides Big Daddy himself, and the impeccable ethnic hotel staff.  The various classy frocks of Maggie the cat heighten her self-proclaimed and understood sex appeal, whereas Brick’s dignity stems from his total indifference to his appearance, his clothes hanging unevenly off his debilitated frame as he sulks disdainfully about his life being over.

John Gibson’s sound design matches the others’ level of excellence, and includes well-chosen classics that say so much, not least the opening track of Johnny Cash’s latter day recital of Cohen’s Bird on a Wire.  Small cellphones and a remote controlled sound system contribute to the definitive modernisation of the work. I assume the purpose is in part to bring the play a little closer to home for new potential audiences.  These adaptations are not greatly intrusive to me, though possibly could be to the well schooled purist.  Admittedly, I’m not familiar enough with the original to be aware exactly how much artistic license has been taken. 

After an uncertain beginning, under the reputable direction of veteran Colin McColl, by the final curtain the audience seemed to generally agree that they had just been on a powerful and worthwhile theatrical journey.  There were a few fluffed lines and a touch of the wobbly accent syndrome on the official opening night, and occasionally various players seemed more to be surfing on their lines than really living them.  These elements become minor in the face of the solid performances, and they certainly can and ought to improve over the first few shows. 

Overall, the structure and intention of ATC’s fifth production this year should ultimately make it one of their strongest.  Giving due respect to the monolith of Williams’ legacy, with a small amount of development it looks set to be a solid classic in it’s own right. 


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