James Dacre’s take on Cat on a Hot Tin Roof at Northern Stage is thoroughly faithful to the script, and yet is staged in a way that make the plays his own to great effect.
Northern Stage does many things, but their speciality is classic plays with their own take on it. Sometimes they stage it in a way that’s not to everyone’s tastes (Blue Remembered Hills), and sometimes they pick plays that I think are now dated (Look Back in Anger), and they’ve got a relatively easy ride compared to nearby Live Theatre who stick their neck out with new untested plays. But on the whole, Northern Stage have an excellent record of doing what they do well, with a decent run of Catch 22 just under their belt. But Cat on a Hot Tin Roof got me particularly excited because this is directed by James Dacre, who was behind the superb The Thrill of Love from the New Vic last year. And a large part of the superbness came down to Dacre’s directing. And I am pleased to say that he did not disappoint in Newcastle.
Tennessee Williams might be a more specialist taste than many other famous writers of the period, but he was certainly one of the boldest. In a way, much of his writing was ahead of his time. Most famously/notoriously, he routinely dropped casually racist language into his plays, not because he thought it was okay, but because that’s the way things were. (For anyone not convinced by that, Sweet Bird of Youth is a good example of a play that portrayed the racist politician as the clear villain.) Then there’s subjects which are uncomfortable today, such as rape (or sex with questionable consent). Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, however, leaves both of these subjects alone for a change, and instead touches on the then-taboo subject of homosexuality. In the back-story is some sort of relationship between Brick and Skipper, friends and team-mates at College American Football. They might have had those feelings for each other – or they might simply have been close friends and it was just the way other people perceived it. Either way, the consequences were very real: Maggie, Brick’s wife, grew jealous of this friendship, Skipper slept with Maggie purely to show he wasn’t like that, and later killed himself out of guilt.