Cat On a Hot Tin Roof

Theatre, Drama Apollo Shaftesbury , Soho Until Saturday October 7 2017
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 (© Johan Persson)
© Johan Persson

Jack O'Connell (Brick) and Sienna Miller (Maggie)

 (© Johan Persson)
© Johan Persson

Jack O'Connell (Brick)

 (© Johan Persson)
© Johan Persson

Jack O'Connell (Brick)

 (© Johan Persson)
© Johan Persson

Jack O'Connell (Brick)

 (© Johan Persson)
© Johan Persson

Jack O'Connell (Brick) and Sienna Miller (Maggie)

 (© Johan Persson)
© Johan Persson

Jack O'Connell (Brick) and Sienna Miller (Maggie)

 (© Johan Persson)
© Johan Persson

Lisa Palfrey (Big Mama) and Michael J Shannon (Reverend)

 (© Johan Persson)
© Johan Persson

Michael J Shannon (Reverend) and Richard Hansel (Doctor)

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Sienna Miller, Jack O'Connell and Colm Meaney star in this evocative but muddled take on the Tennessee Williams classic

Though it begins and ends with an extremely clear view of actor Jack O’Connell’s penis, this take on Tennessee Williams’s classic play from Aussie star director Benedict Andrews is a less edgy affair than one might hope.

Andrews’s UK reputation is built on a pair of plays he directed for the Young Vic: his phenomenal 2012 take on Chekhov’s ‘Three Sisters’, and his solid 2014 stab at Williams’s ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’. ‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof’ is also a Young Vic production, though it’s gone straight to the West End rather than calling in at the mother ship first.

One reason for that, I’m sure, is that O’Connell’s co-star is the properly famous Sienna Miller, who plays Maggie, the loquacious, frustrated wife to his booze-sodden Brick, damaged scion to a wealthy, dysfunctional Southern family.

An actor whose fame has always somewhat overshadowed her abilities, a lot is asked of Miller during the long first scene, a two-hander between Maggie and Brick in which virtually all the lines are hers. There is a blowsy warmth and bigness of spirit to Miller’s Maggie: her care – not to mention desire – for Brick is obvious, and her long, gossipy speeches are animated with a winsome charisma. Whether or not this entirely tallies with the character is debatable: it’s hard to really square this charming Maggie with the woman who slept with Brick’s best friend Skipper out of jealousy at their closeness – there’s a lack of complexity. (Having raised the spectre of O’Connell’s todger I should probably also mention that Miller takes off all her clothes too – if you’re planning on taking a GCSE class you can’t say you weren’t warned).

Opposite her, young actor O’Connell’s busy screen career hasn’t a lot of time for stage work, and it kind of shows. The booze-sodden, guilt-stricken Brick is a tricky part because he has the most stage time but relatively few lines. O’Connell doesn’t really have the oomph to make sitting around being silently anguished look as compelling as it might.

Andrews’s prior Young Vic productions had a clarity of vision that felt grounded in the sets, as much as anything. Here everything happens in a sort of sleek black space that looks like a funeral parlour, surrounded by dull gold walls – I wonder if Magda Willi’s design is supposed to suggest that life is a sort of grandiose tomb for Brick and his dysfunctional family. There are some beautiful moments, especially towards the end: a sort of quiet, unsettling chaos as the family starts to tear itself apart under the apocalyptic fireworks of patriarch Big Daddy’s birthday celebrations (stunningly lit by Jon Clark, with a fidgety jazz score by Gareth Fry).

The longer second half is much stronger. The production kicks into gear, and Miller and O’Connell are backed up by some much more accomplished actors: Hayley Squires is scene-stealingly unrecognisable from her turn in ‘I, Daniel Blake’ as Brick’s awful sister-in-law Mae. And Colm Meaney’s Big Daddy is fierce and complicated, his rich man’s unpleasantness tempered by a genuine love of poor Brick – their scene together is O’Connell’s strongest.

Andrews is a gutsy choice for a West End show, and the results are more interesting than if it was just some journeyman Brit director, but it doesn’t seem like his natural environment. Certainly there’s none of the brilliant irreverence that surged through his ‘Three Sisters’ – the nudity feels a bit portentous, if I’m honest – and Miller and O’Connell are, to be frank, limited leads. Nice ideas and some moments of magic but it all adds up to an interesting mediocrity.

By: Andrzej Lukowski


Venue name: Apollo Shaftesbury
Address: Shaftesbury Avenue
Transport: Tube: Piccadilly Circus
Price: £20-£95. Run 3hr
Event website:
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Avatar for Emma C
1 of 1 found helpful

Big budget, famous actors and nudity to cover up shabby direction that doesn't make sense or connect in any way to the story, and a clunky set that looks expensive and glamaorus but serves little purpose. The direction was infuriating (why would a woman dive into a massive cake on being told her husband is dying) and the nudity was unnecessary and cheap. Jack O'Connell, Hayley Squires and Lisa Palfrey were the only actors who were engaged with there characters. The throwing of glass and ice and cake was just unnecessary and having Maggie hide the whiskey bottles in the audience felt desperate and uncomfortable. Was very disappointed that a brilliant script and good actors had been let down by set and direction.

Avatar for John C

The real essence of Tennessee  Williams is smooth poetic prose. All his work was written in a time of censorship, and he found he could work around this without compromising his art.

Years later we can forget compromise, we can be explicit, we we can add profanities, and nudity.This production has taken advantage of our new freedoms, but unfortunately has lost the flow, and the art.
The staging is a square space with a bed, dressing table & a shower. Brick uses the shower each time the play gets waterlogged (about once an hour).
Sienna Miller as Maggie (the cat) does her best but fails to capture the elegance & style of the character, while Jack O'Connell as Brick does capture something of the desperate quality of her partner. However they fail to spark off each other, while the rest of the cast support, but it all seems uncoordinated, & just wrong.

Avatar for Matthew G

Before I saw this, I wouldn't have thought it possible to turn such a brilliant play into a dull production. It is. Sienna Miller works hard in the first act, but she doesn't crackle and is hindered by Jack O'Connell who gives her nothing. Brick is written as a taciturn alcoholic, but in this production he is bereft of character. Colm Meaney brings some much-needed warm blood to the stage. The other actors give it as much energy as they can, but are hamstrung by heavy-handed direction; I wanted the director to let them have more space and freedom to trust the text. The nudity was boring and pointless - it revealed nothing about the characters and didn't move the story forward. The 2009 production with James Earl Jones remains my standard: sizzling, dynamic and wrenching. That's what this production should have been, but the director went with star power with the lead and shock-value with the nudity, resulting in a production with no danger, no risk and no heart. 

Avatar for Ladyvp
0 of 1 found helpful

Went to see this play and was impressed. If you don't know the play at all the plots sounds quite tedious, but it is surprisingly manageable considering that Maggie speaks for most of the first act. The themes are surprisingly modern. The setting is well done and I love how as you discover how messy their lives are the set gets messier and messier. 

I was in the nosebleeds and did not feel like i  missed anything. I usually need glasses but did not need them. I got the binoculars before the show and did not know about both main actors getting completely nude, so I must have looked a massive pervert examining the actors in their undressed state.