Tennessee Williams’ classic Cat on a Hot Tin Roof opened Theatr Clwyd ’s 40th anniversary year and doesn’t disappoint.
The Pulitzer Prize winning play is a quintessential Southern drama filled with scheming relatives, family wealth and many unspoken secrets.
Although set in the 1950s there is something remarkably contemporary in Maggie’s (Catrin Stewart) opening soliloquy in which she voices her disdain for her sister-in-law and her brattish children (the No-Neck Monsters as she calls them) as they gather for Big Daddy’s 65th grand birthday party and to find out whether he has cancer or not.
By contrast with Maggie’s ceaseless Southern drawl her husband Brick (Gareth David-Lloyd) speaks little and usually through the bottom of a glass.
But his character develops and strengthens as the play progresses despite his reliance on alcohol.
The bulky figure of Big Daddy looms over the play long before he comes on stage. But his appearance, and gruff complexity, are no anti-climax.
Desmond Barrit brings warmth and sympathy and no small measure of humour to the blustering bully who owns the 28,000 acre cotton plantation on whose wealth all the characters in the play depend.
Big Mama, the bustling matriarch, is well played by Abigail McKern. Williams wrote this role fluidly so it can be performed any number of ways.
In this production it isn’t clear what kind of a marriage she has or whether she loves or fears Big Daddy or how she will deal with his imminent death.
The other roles support the main characters. Andrew Langtree portrays the bumptious calculating elder brother, Gooper and Catrin Aaron gives another well-rounded performance as his sharp-tongued wife Mae. Ian Hallard (Rev Tooker) and Ryan Ellsworth (Dr Baugh) and a group of children complete the cast.
The set is simple but effective with Maggie and Brick’s bedroom surrounded by two galleries which allow the characters to step “off stage” at times.
The play ends with Maggie and Brick centre stage as the lights fade on a compelling production. An impressive start to the tenure of Tamara Harvey as Theatr Clwyd’s new artistic director .
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is at the Anthony Hopkins Theatre until March 5. Ticket information online or the Box Office on 01352 701521