(Billington's article appeared in the Guardian, 12/2.)

Cat On a Hot Tin Roof

Novello, London

What difference does it make that Tennessee Williams's play is performed by a black cast in Debbie Allen's Broadway production? It undoubtedly gives the work a new dynamic. But ethnicity matters less than emotional firepower and an awareness of the essential Williams conflict between lies and truth; and both are abundantly present in this exhilarating evening.

The real bonus is the presence of the titanic James Earl Jones as Big Daddy; and his second-act, father-son confrontation with Adrian Lester's Brick is one of the high water-marks of the London year. Jones gives us all the brutal coarseness and volcanic vulgarity of this Mississippi plantation-owner who believes his cancer is in remission: rejoicing in his apparent new lease of life, Jones does little hip-swinging shimmies and obscene pelvic thrusts. But the brilliance of Jones's performance lies in his revelation of the vulnerability of this domestic tyrant. Probing the reason for Brick's alcholism and its connection with the death of his friend Skipper, Jones takes on the look of a wounded therapist. And the sudden stabs of pain with which Jones punctuates the scene acquire a shattering force when Big Daddy finally confronts the truth of his condition.

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