National Theatre Live’s Cat On A Hot Tin Roof is scorching

Cineplex's broadcast of the West End production of the Tennessee Williams classic features onstage nudity, tattoos, iPhones and lots of insight

CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF – NATIONAL THEATRE LIVE opens Thursday (February 22). 185 minutes. See Cineplex site or listing. Rating: NNNN

Who knew that a British production directed by an Aussie and starring two actors better known for their film work could make us see an American classic in a whole new light?

Tennessee Williams’s tale of restless Maggie (Sienna Miller), her alcoholic husband, Brick (Jack O’Connell), who’s been on a continual bender since the death of his best friend, and Brick’s wealthy father, Big Daddy (Colm Meaney), who gets news about his illness on the day of his birthday party, is usually given an Old South treatment. 

But director Benedict Andrews, who helmed an acclaimed and radical production of Williams’s A Streetcar Named Desire a few years ago, eschews faded gentility for stark, cold symbolism – and it works well. 

A dark gold backdrop could represent an Egyptian sarcophagus or the wealth Big Daddy has accumulated and wants to bequeath to one of his sons. Also novel is an onstage shower, under which O’Connell sits or stands stark naked for long, scene-stealing minutes. 

Big Mama (Lisa Palfrey) wields an iPhone in this version. And there’s no attempt to cover up O’Connell’s “Jack the Lad” tattoo on his arm. 

Whiskey bottles are placed precariously near the edge of the stage, along with a huge bag of ice, from which the cast-wearing, hobbling Brick replenishes his glass.

This National Theatre Live broadcast captures the electricity between Miller and O’Connell as they battle over the unsaid, and then the said, things between them.

Miller handles Maggie’s manipulative pleas like a pro, completely comfortable in her character’s skin and grasping outbursts, but O’Connell has a different rhythm to his acting and finds a natural rapport with his father, played by Meaney with a pompous, vain bluster that’s simultaneously appealing and repulsive.

It’s a long show, but Andrews does great work with the actors to create explosive drama that translates nicely to the screen.

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