Cat on a Hot Tin Roof – Brisbane season

 It’s Big Daddy’s 65th birthday and the tyrannical Pollit family patriarch doesn’t know he is dying from cancer, but his family sure does.

 Presented by: Queensland Theatre Company and Black Swan Theatre Company (Perth)Venue: Optus Playhouse, QPAC (Brisbane)  Review date: Thursday, August 18, 2011   Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way – Leo Tolstoy It’s Big Daddy’s 65th birthday and the tyrannical Pollit family patriarch doesn’t know he is dying from cancer, but his family sure does.  His birthday celebrations prove a pressure cooker for latent family tensions as his children compete for Big Daddy’s (John Stanton) favour, or more importantly his twenty-eight thousand acre cotton plantation.  Director Kate Cherry navigates with dexterity through themes of greed, betrayal, sexuality, mortality and mendacity that play out over one tumultuous evening with the Pollit family in Tennessee William’s 1955 classic play, Cat On A Hot Tin Roof. Cicada song and lazy fans circling over a luxurious bedsit open the play, immediately drawing the audience into a steamy, Deep South afternoon. Bruce McKinven’s set and David Murray’s lighting design are highly effective in conjuring the feeling that a sprawling cotton plantation lies just beyond the shuttered portico opening into the background.    Cheree Cassidy dominates the first Act with a solid performance as the vivacious and sensual Maggie ‘the Cat’. Maggie is desperately trying to revive the affections of her depressed, alcoholic husband, Brick (Tom O’Sullivan) and ensure that Big Daddy’s plantation is not inherited in its entirety by Brick’s strait-laced older brother, Gooper (Hugh Parker). However, former football star Brick is busy grieving the death of his best friend Skipper and remains impervious to Maggie’s desires both for him and Big Daddy’s estate, finding solace in an alcoholic haze. Meanwhile, with twenty-eight thousand acres at stake Gooper and his pregnant, conniving wife Mae (Caitlin Beresfor-Ord) battle it out with Maggie, using every opportunity possible to bring Brick’s crumbling marriage, alcoholism and failure to produce a child to the attention of Big Daddy.
The show’s standout is Big Mamma (Carol Burns), whose endless devotion to Brick and Big Daddy is met by heartbreaking disregard from these men for her. Burns owns every moment she is on stage bringing lightness and humour to the piece in Big Mamma’s attempts to sort out her troubled brood. Other highlights include Stanton’s domineering Big Daddy and O’Sullivan’s carefully meted out performance as Brick. These two shine in particular during the second Act where all manner of untruths are revealed and a final, beautiful lie proves triumphant.  
The cast’s American accents, which can be an alarming distraction in some productions, were for the most part carried fairly well throughout the three-hour performance, though some could have used a little development. And, yes, it is a long play; the one interval around the two-hour mark makes for a marathon first Act. However, William’s brilliant, fast-paced dialogue is carried unabated by the cast and the masterful unravelling of the Pollit family organism showcases William’s innate understanding of human nature, making this play relevant to today’s audience and captivating to the finish.        

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