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February 2020
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Cat On A Thin Roof (Theatre Review)

I had heard so much about Tennessee Williams and his plays. However, I have never been lucky to see any on the live stage. So, when I was offered a ticket to see Cat On A Thin Roof, currently showing at the Novello Theatre, London, I was truly looking forward to it. Finally, I was going to see a play by a great playwright I had heard so much about. I remember going to my local library and when I was signing out with three of his plays, the Librarian said, wow! You have great taste. I gave him a sheepish smile because I was feeling so cool with myself. Maybe he thought I was one smart cookie, which I am. I refuse to be humble about this. So, please, allow me. I am smart but I still have a lot to learn. Though, I had heard one or two people talk about the production, I thought it best not to read any reviews, so they don’t spoil my appetite for a good play. Written by Tennessee Williams and directed by Debbie Allen with a stellar cast, James Earl Jones, Phylicia Rashad, Sanaa Lathan and Adrian Lester…it must have felt like a battle of the titans on stage with all of these talents. These are my thoughts on Cat On A Thin Roof.

Cat On A Thin RoofWe are instantly thrown into a frustrated marriage with the Characters of Maggie (Lathan) and Brick (Lester.) Brick cannot stand Maggie and is drinking himself silly to overcome the pain and death of his best friend, Skipper. He has also become nonchalant. She is desperate for their marriage to go back to the way it was and longing for more intimacy with him, which Brick is clearly not ready to give her. Being childless is not helping her either. Hence, she is also worried about their share of Big Daddy’s wealth, Brick’s father (Jones) when he dies because Brick’s brother with his overbearing wife has five children. And of course, Maggie does not want to live a poor lifestyle especially when she remembers her childhood. Hence, she is okay with the idea of living with Brick’s impassive attitude, though he has told her he is happy for them to go their separate ways. They live together as husband and wife, yet they are total strangers.

The opening act with Maggie and Brick is one hell of an intense scene. I have seen Lathan in films but I must say, she did a great job carrying this scene all the way. She was animated and has a strong stage presence. You have no choice but to watch and listen to her and she is funny with some great humourous lines. The emotional dance between these two goes on and on though I have to say action and movement is sometimes lacking on the stage. The most we see is Brick with one leg in a cast falling over here and there and it is the same throughout the play.

We are soon introduced to Brick’s brother, Gooper and his wife Mae; let’s agree that Big Daddy’s house is hysterical household full of actors with personal agendas. When we meet Big Mama (Rashad) you can tell the audience is in love with her as a person and in character she plays the role of Big Mama, so well, she is on point! The scene where she tells her daughter-in-law, Lathan that the bedroom is where you sort things out in your marriage is one of the funniest things I have seen on the stage lately. Rashad is witty in this role while speaking some home truths to her household. When we meet Big Daddy (Jones) that is when the real trouble starts.

It is his birthday and what was meant to be a celebration turns sour as he berates his wife and accuses her of plotting to take over his empire based on the notion that he was dying. Everyone gets their fare share of the blame, Mae is given a wash down and then his attention turns to Brick, as he tries to get to the bottom of Brick’s drinking problems. As father and son get into the nitty gritty of their lives, we learn the reasons behinds Brick’s drinking and what is causing him pain. He tells his father he is in a state of mendacity. I have to be honest that I had to check this word out when I got home. His father too admits that he has had to live with himself and the disgust of his life like we all do. And so the dance between both men continues in words as emotions run high between Big Daddy and his favourite son.

I agree with a few reviewers now that something is missing, and that something for me is the fact that there is more dialogue than there is action sometimes but nonetheless, it is a fine production with thought-provoking moments and some great emotional highs. If anything, it is a family drama that reiterates no family is perfect, we all have our problems and things we are ashamed of. And truly, there are those within families who are only focused on their selfish desires like Gooper and his wife, Mae.

I say, Debbie Allen has done a great job with the fine cast in making history. Her production in the US was the first time an all African American cast had done the show and I believe it is the same for the London production.

Well worth a visit, so you can draw your con conclusions. For me, this is my own take.

Image: James Earl Jones and Adrian Lester by Nobby Clark.


4 Responses to “Cat On A Thin Roof (Theatre Review)”

  1. dami says:

    a nice write-up. cat on the tin roof is good; but a street car called desire is a personal all time fav, and the greatest.

  2. Myne Whitman says:

    I had some friends review this too and they were impressed especially by Rashad and Lathan. Thanks for yours.

  3. Belinda Otas says:

    @ Myne, thanks. They were great, both of the. First time I have seen them on stage.
    @ Dami, A Street Car Named Desire is one of his plays I got from the library. I read plays, a habit I formed at uni. I know they say it’s best to see it on stage but when you read a good play, you can visualise it. A good example and one of my all time favourite is Topdog/underdog by Susan Lori Parks. I have never seen the stage production but I loved the play text and I have read it three times. Shhhh, don’t tell anyone. Then when I got the doc to go with the play and about her work, the snippets in the video, were so vivid, I felt like I was there at the theatre when it was showng in New York. Talk about strange, but that’s me, I love me some theatre. 🙂

  4. Sherrell Mussa says:

    If experience is the best teacher, your article proves that you have experienced what you very vividly portray.

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