I do enjoy a bit of Tennessee Williams, although I almost don't know why because on paper the high melodrama of it all should really not be my sort of thing. But I always seem to get sucked into the action and so it is with Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. In contrast to Streetcar, the protagonists here are certainly not short of money, but that doesn't stop it being a central issue. Plantation owner Big Daddy is dying, although he hasn't been told that; on his birthday the whole family congregates at his huge home, specifically the suite where youngest son Brick (who's broken his leg so the whole family goes to him) and his wife Maggie, the Cat of the title, are staying.
The big-name star everyone is waiting for is James Earl Jones as Big Daddy, and he doesn't disappoint; the big booming but ultimately moving performance that you'd hope for, but giving the nasty old man a human side. If anything though the huge affection the actor is held in is something to be overcome, because although he's playing such an unsympathetic character the audience tended to laugh at a lot of the insults he hurls at his long-suffering wife; at times I felt a bit uncomfortable to have that happening as he rants at Big Mama that she's ugly and he's never loved her, but eventually Phylicia Rashad's dignified performance swings sympathy her way. Adrian Lester is as good as ever as the alcoholic, probably-gay Brick, and although to start with some of Sanaa Lathan's lines got lost, she grew on me and handled the first act (which to all in terms and purposes could be an occasionally interrupted monologue from Maggie) very well. She has an ongoing feud with her sister-in-law Mae, and Lathan and Nina Sosanya spark off each other well. There's also Derek Griffiths (yes! From Play School! Love him) as the reverend, pretty much a cameo role but stealing every scene he's in.
I liked Morgan Large's opulent set design, and Fay Fullerton's costumes have a hint of Dynasty about them (the action's been moved to the 1980s although this barely makes a difference.) Ultimately the moral is that fame costs, and this is where you pay with sweat. Did I mention it's directed by Debbie Allen?
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof by Tennessee Williams is booking until the 10th of April at the Novello Theatre.