Reviewed by Benjamin Orchard
It hard to know sometimes, if one should laugh or cry when attending The Adelaide Rep’s latest production – an unnervingly intense look at a dysfunctional family coming apart at the seams as, gathered together for the birthday celebration of their elderly patriarch, years of pent up resentment and bitterness come to the boil in a succession of vicious, but sometimes witty arguments.
Russell Starke is suitably cantankerous and cynical as the “Big Daddy”, whose towering ego has cast a long shadow over the lives of his family. But he knows just the right moments to display some vulnerability underneath the bluster, ensuring the audience is always able to empathise, if not sympathise, with this wounded soul… and understand why his long suffering wife (Jude Brennan, bringing a subtly nuanced dignity to a role that all too easily could’ve been played as a one-note doormat) is willing to put up with him.
Big Daddy’s money-grubbing eldest son, Gooper (Alan Fitzpatrick), and Gooper’s prissy snob of a wife, Mae (Nicole Rutty) are played in broader strokes, ultimately emerging as the kind of loathsome scabs that an audience loves to hate. With a family like this it’s easy enough to see why younger son, Brick (Joshua Coldwell) is driven to drink. Coldwell portrays Brick’s bitterness well, and is quietly affecting in scenes where he relates how he is haunted by both the suicide of a close friend and his glory days as a college football star. But Coldwell’s depiction of the character’s alcoholism skirts the edge of caricature – by the time he consumes his 12th glass of whiskey in a row, with little noticeable effect on his speech or mannerisms, the character’s constant drinking comes across as somewhat cartoonish.
Though Brick’s wife, Maggie (Anita Pipprell) has a tendency to “act out” with an adolescent petulance to get the attention of those around her, she is frequently the sole voice of reason in any given scene. Pipprell does a fine job of capturing the duality of a character who has an immature temperament, but at the same time is a much more intelligent and reasonable person than any of the family members who constantly relate to her in a condescending way.
John Matsen, David Rapkin, Alicia Hammond, Zara Blight, Rachael Holmes-Vickers, Thomas Hamilton-Smith and Jimmy White don’t get much dialogue as the other guests. But they each have a strong physicality that enriches the background of the proceedings, without intruding upon the main drama.
The combined bedroom/living room set eliminates the need for drawn out scene transitions, and has a suitably “homey” atmosphere. Costumes are period appropriate, without being ostentatiously flashy.
Overall, if you like your theatre to be impassioned and confronting, and don’t mind going on an emotional journey with some very flawed, unsympathetic characters, then you’re well catered for with this production of Cat On A Hot Tin Roof.