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Review: The naked and messy Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, Apollo Theatre #YoungVicCat

Cat-on-a-hot-tin-roof-photo-by-charlie-gray2Hands up all those who remember Tom Hiddleston taking a shower on stage during Coriolanus at the Donmar Warehouse? Well Tom Hiddleston and that production hasn't got anything on Jack O'Connell and the Young Vic's Cat On A Hot Tin Roof.

The shower is a permanent part of the opulent, minimalist, bedroom set for Tennessee Williams' classic play; thick black carpet, gold walls, black dressing table and chair, black bed with just some fresh flowers on the night stands for colour.

Right at the front of the stage, on the carpet, are six bottles of whisky, a bag of ice and some glasses, towards the back and to one side is the stem of the shower. There is no screen, or shower tray it grows out of the carpet and it becomes something to lean on or sit against as well as a shower. Rather randomly it reminded me of the lamp post in the Chronicles of Narnia - probably because the characters sometimes gather around it.

As the lights come up Brick (Jack O'Connell) is sat naked, under the flow of water (yes it runs straight into the carpet to the delight of the stage manager I'm sure), while his wife Maggie (Sienna Miller) talks incessantly about nothing and everything.

It is Brick's family home and preparations are underway for Big Daddy's (Colm Meaney) 65th birthday party but there is more than just blowing out candles on the cake at stake. Big Daddy is a rich land owner who's just had a cancer scare and there are ambitions and expectations among the wider family which, it quickly becomes clear, has led to rivalries. This isn't the Walton's.

In the bedroom there is a also a struggle going on, to save a dying marriage. Through Maggie's almost constant flow of words there is bitterness, bile, anger, fear and frustration but Brick remains impassive almost numb to it all. Eventually he turns off the shower, wraps a towel around  his waist manoeuvring towards the bed on one crutch, having recently broken his ankle while drunk. He pauses only to make himself a drink, something he will do continuously throughout the play, deftly balancing on one leg.

Like Brick's prone form on the bed, their marriage lies naked in the room with just a towel covering the truth behind their unhappy marriage. Brick is a despondent husk, and Maggie's words roll off him like water. As the play progresses the towel will, metaphorically, be lifted as will the secrets and agenda of the wider family. It will get messy - emotionally and physically (it doesn't end well for the cake).

The first act establishes the tensions and then the rest of the play digs out the roots. Sienna Miller's Maggie is deserving of her cat nickname, she has a sexiness, a sassiness and nervous edge.  For her it is about survival and preservation, she is wounded and trying anything to keep on the offensive. Jack O'Connell's Brick has a powerful presence. He manages to be both indifferent and wounded and even when he isn't saying much, which is for a lot of the time, you find your eyes drawn to him for clues.

It is a gripping production, messy and naked in many senses, and while some of the physical mess occasionally feels at little over the top, I'm going to give it a breathless five stars.

See it at the Apollo Theatre until 7 October. It is two hours and 50 minutes with an interval - although this was a preview performance so that might change slightly. The interval falls very early at around 50 minutes in.

* The official production photos have been released and What's On Stage has them here.