Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds


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The Independent Culture

The ceiling fan stirs the thick, hot soup of the delta night air in the bedroom of the colonial mansion house where the bourbon flows as plentifully as the deep waters of the Mississippi.

Here the pent up frustrations of dysfunctional family life down on the plantation bubble and seethe until you have to stop your hand reaching for a whisky sour to try and cool things down.

After three hours in the company of Sarah Esdaile’s skilful revival of Tennessee Williams classic study of southern discomfort it came as a surprise to step out into the chill air of a Leeds’ evening.

But there is no greater testimony to the consuming powers of theatre and a top class production than that it transports you from the dreariness of the here and now and plonks you in the midst of an exotic and passionate drama.

Williams’ opening in which Maggie exerts every ounce of her considerable feminine powers to coax, entice and bully her opted-out husband back to life offers any actor an extraordinary opportunity for her talents.

It is a role made famous by Elizabeth Taylor in the 1958 film version alongside Paul Newman.

And Zoe Boyle succeeds superbly as the dirt-poor girl who won’t give up without a fight in a performance that oozes sexiness and crackles with desperate hilarity.

Yet for all her exhortations Brick remains impervious. Jamie Parker’s failed athlete turned sports commentator has given up caring following the death of his friend Skipper.

Instead he is devoting himself to the occupation of drinking and avoidance. The unrequited homosexual relationship with his fellow jock is at the heart of the rotten marriage and Parker plays the part with injured brilliance, hiding his hurt behind a fake languidness as he spends each day in search of the alcohol-induced “click”.

Brick and Maggie however are just one corner of the triangle of vividly painted relationships on which the play is built. The rough-old red neck patriarch Big Daddy, played by Richard Cordery, who believing himself to have been offered the opportunity to live again after a cancer scare, dreams of spending it– “humping from hell to breakfast” – as far away from the “fat old body” of Amanda Boxer’s Big Mama as he can.

Completing the trio are older brother Gooper, (Benedict Sandiford) his wife Mae (Hannah Stokely), and their fleet of “no-neck monsters” who employ their reproductive pre-eminence hilariously in a bid to seize the farm from his boozed-up sibling.

It was surprising that Esdaile’s production of Terence Rattigan’s The Deep Blue Sea at this theatre did not please all the critics last year. Few will be able to find fault with this.

Until 27 October