Theatre review: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof @ Royal Exchange, Manchester

Set in a single room on a hot Mississippi day, Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is a startlingly realistic and gripping piece that has captured audiences for decades.

The play tackles age-old issues of repressed sexuality, living in denial, and marital struggles – all within the four walls of one room.

Theatre designer Mike Britton made excellent use of the Royal Exchange’s in-the-round stage, using the audience to cage in the actors, who snuck around the seats to create an eerie atmosphere.

Overlapping dialogue, interruptions from passing children and fireworks outside the room all combined to fully immerse the audience, while the minimal use of props forced focus onto the dialogue.

Mariah Gale took to the stage as Maggie the Cat, sauntering in during the first act and immediately taking control of the stage.

Her constant movement and dramatic shifts in mood were all that was needed to hold the audience, and she and Charles Aitken – the alcoholic Brick – played well off each other.

GRIPPING: Mariah Gale commands the stage with her portrayal of Maggie 

The titular line – ‘That’s the victory of a cat on a hot tin roof’ – was delivered with Maggie’s trademark easy charm and determined casualness, which Gale managed to hold on to even while flitting away from attacks.

Daragh O’Malley, with his Southern drawl slipping to reveal an Irish accent, was larger-than-life in his role of Big Daddy, taking advantage of the theatre’s acoustics to really let go as he roared in pain off stage.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof was written with two endings – Williams’ original, and the ‘Broadway’ version, written on the advice of the original director, Elia Kazan.

Director James Dacre elected to go with the original ending – which seemed to be a much better choice – the alternate ending lessens the seriousness of Brick’s struggle with his sexuality and internalised homophobia, and loses the poignancy of the final line.

The bittersweet finale of the original storyline worked perfectly in the small, intimate theatre – the audience were frozen in their seats as Maggie turned off each lamp and the music rose, reminding Brick of her love for him before he uttered the final words – ‘Wouldn’t it be funny if that were true?’.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is running at the Royal Exchange theatre until November 29. For tickets, click here. 

Images courtesy of The Royal Exchange Theatre, via Youtube, with thanks.

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