REVIEW: Cat On A Hot Tin Roof | Star of the Sea Theatre, Sydney
Manly isn’t and will probably be the centre of the theatrical universe. Not even close. But lurking just behind the famous beach and promenade lined with towering Norfolk pines is one of Sydney’s most functional small theatres.
Star Of The Sea has for a long time been home base for the anachronistically-named Factory Space Theatre, whose artistic and resident director is Roz Riley. As avid readers will know, Riley and I have had and have our differences; my estimations of the company’s output haven’t always been particularly complimentary. This has often been related to questions of taste: set design; music. Otherwise, it’s been about very uneven casts. Her selection of work tends to the classics, Cat On A Hot Tin Roof being the latest proof in the pudding.
Given the awareness we, in Australia, have of the play is likely garnered by way of Ives, Newman and Taylor’s surpassing film portrayals, it’s an ambitious piece to stage for a major production company, let alone the independent likes of Factory Space. So I can’t pretend I attended with high expectations, but figured, at the very least, I’d have a chance to reacquaint myself with a truly, indefatigably great writing.
Cat, of course, won a Pulitzer (unlike any literature this year) and was Williams’ fave. I somehow don’t feel he would’ve been any more partial to Hecate’s (Marisa Newnes; Brigid Steeper; Suzanne Hauser) busy, overdressed set, however, than I. While the colours were consistent with what one might associate with the lightness and brightness of idyllic southern summer days, there were too many props, a little too disparate and way too widely-dispersed to give any cohesive look or focus. The cobbled-together, assembled approach is the antithesis of a ‘look’ or vision for the stage.
Although the massive draped fabrics, festooned with autumn leaves cast a pleasing shadow, a projection of such would’ve endowed a subtlety sorely missed. Instead, the overall effect is distracting and, as you’ll surmise, intensely aggravating. But quite apart from aesthetic abrogations, the fact is the set is just plain wrong: instead of the very deliberately restricted environs of the bed-sitting room specified by Williams, this is a sprawling bedroom suite, which missed the intent entirely.
Lighting, by the virtual consortium of Taylor Allen, Nick Adams, Nigel Cox and John Tidswell, was no better for having any hands on deck. While the concept of a single, burning spot for various characters ‘soliloquies’ was a good concept, it proved clumsy in practice. Fortunately, Lindsay Walton and Reka Csutkai’s stage management seemed to fare better.
What did work was what was really critical (particularly to such a claustrophobic dramatic setup): direction and performances. Fresh from a shining turn in the box for Kath Perry’s Shakespeare’s Queens (graduating from the Adelaide Fringe to Stratford-On-Avon), Riley has outdone herself once again, with what must be one of her strongest casts to date, if not the outright clincher.
Probably foremost among them is Leof Kingsford-Smith’s Big Daddy; possibly even finer than Ives’ indelibly intimidatory template for the beast. Like Ives’, K-S’s Daddy is brash (almost barbaric), virile, more compassionate and wise-in-his-way. Jan Langford Penny treads the fine line between bombastic and compassionate; brittle-hard and soft-centred, a living, breathing contradiction-in-terms. Her only liability is a tendency to fall out of the deceptively difficult-to-do and maintain deep southern drawl, lapsing into an almost Kath-and-Kimesque Aussie broadness. Her tone grates, as it should, but it does get wearing. All-in-all, though, the two elders really nail their roles, as well as the relationship between them.
Jack Fairweather is a suitably geekish Gooper too: klutzy, uncharismatic, insidious and thoroughly unlikeable, as is Lara Dignam’s Mae. She’s the grotesque quintessence of calculating coldness, swathed in pretension. Their many, invasive kids are a background barometer for the self-serving postures of the parents.
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