Theatre review: Hot Tin Roof

Charles Aitken as Brick (left) and Dara O'Malley as Big Daddy. Photo - Jonathan Keenan

Charles Aitken as Brick (left) and Dara O'Malley as Big Daddy. Photo - Jonathan Keenan

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I love the Royal Exchange Theatre.

I like the plays of Tennessee Williams and have reviewed “Streetcar” and the “Glass Menagerie” several times, but this is the first production I have seen of “Cat On A Hot Tin Roof”, which Williams called his favourite play and which won a Pulitzer prize in 1955.

It is interesting and challenging, but, I have to confess, not my favourite. There have been different versions – including the famous film with Elizabeth Taylor, Paul Newman and Burl Ives – and Williams rewrote the script several times.

At the Exchange, director James Dacre has chosen to give us the first draft of Act Three, with Brick sinking into inertia. An accomplished cast interpret a complex drama of conflict and human emotion.

Brick (Charles Aitken) is married to Maggie (Marian Gale), but their relationship is foundering and they have not slept together for some time and Brick has sought refuge in alcohol. They are staying at the plantation home of Brick’s father, Big Daddy (Daragh O’Malley) and his wife, Big Momma (Kim Criswell), together with Brick’s brother Gooper (Matthew Douglas) and his wife Mae (Victoria Elliott), who have five children and another on the way.

It is Big Daddy’s 65th birthday and all the family, apart from Big Daddy and Big Momma, know that Big Daddy is dying of cancer so there is conflict over the inheritance. Greed is one of the themes. In the early part of the play we learn that the reason for the hostility between Maggie and Brick is because Maggie has slept with Brick’s great friend, Skipper, now dead.

Brick’s latent homosexuality is also an underlying theme. Perhaps the central focus is on the conversations between Brick and Big Daddy in which both attempt to understand the “mendacity”, the lies on which their family is founded. I found myself more engrossed in the second half, but overall I was not captivated and drawn into Williams’ world despite the excellent acting, direction and design.

“My Bad!” as the Americans might say. I just found it hard to watch so many characters for whom I felt little sympathy and a drama which seemed to lack moments of light and shade, although I enjoyed the ironic humour towards the end.

The Royal Exchange’s Christmas production, “Little Shop of Horrors”, starts at the beginning of December. I am really looking forward to this wonderfully eccentric musical about a plant with a macabre craving. In addition, The Exchange have just finished a film version of Maxine Peake’s “Hamlet”, out next year and worth watching all over again.

“Cat On A Hot Tin Roof” at the Royal Exchange , Manchester, until November 29th. Box office: 0161 833 9833 Website: www.royalexchange.co.uk