Cat on a Hot Tin Roof was reportedly Tennessee Williams’ favourite of his plays. Concerned with the relationships enacted in a plantation home in the Deep South during the 1950s, the play allows a study of a single family and the breakdown of the relationships between the characters. A cheery play, then. Sitting in on a rehearsal in tech week, a lot of Southern accents, shouting, whiskey, and one broken leg are the overwhelming images I came away with. This is a play – and a production – unafraid to engage with serious and wholly human themes.
Bennett Bonci, the production’s director, speaking from behind eight cans of Red Bull, was keen to explain why Cat was his choice for his first venture into solo directing: Williams is his favourite playwright, and Cat is the most feasible of his plays to stage with the somewhat limited resources of student theatre. Set in one room – albeit a fairly lavishly, and period, decorated room – Cat manages to escape the multiple, extravagant sets so common in Williams’ body of work.
Bonci makes much of his love of working with large casts, and in larger spaces – Cat is the first Mermaids production to go up in the new Union Performance Space, the StAge – and this production brings together actors who have been involved in multiple Mermaids productions, like the lead couple Maddie Inskeep (Maggie) and Louis Catliff (Brick), as well as several people entirely new to theatre in St Andrews. Of course, the largest challenges for the actor playing Brick is acting out some pretty physically demanding altercations whilst having one of their legs in a cast and maintaining a Southern accent. Catliff was keen to emphasise the helpfulness of the crew in ensuring he isn’t allowed to put his foot down during any rehearsal to make it as realistic as possible. Suddenly the phrase ‘break a leg’ takes on a new significance.
Danielle Donnally, Cat’s producer, has been tasked with creating the set for the production, and is currently putting together huge walls, building a balcony, and sourcing period furniture from odd locations around St Andrews. Combined with imported costumes, a soundscape made up of entirely realistic sounds, including a 1950s TV track, this is a production team focused on detail and authenticity, striving for realism rather than a sense of theatricality.
Bonci and his cast are clearly in love with the play, something which is translating well into the production itself: they all speak of the piece with care and joy. If the passion of the cast and crew is anything to go by, this will be a production worth enduring the heat for.
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof goes up in The StAge (The Union Performance Space) at 7 from the 19th– 21st November.