Cat on a hot tin roof - Adjudication

Last Post: Friday 1st July 2022

Interpretation/collective vision of the piece It was rather fortuitous that the weather outside on the evening I attended the play, mimicked the cloying and sultry sense you always get with Tennessee Williams’ plays. There is always the feel of heat and simmering emotions, so to have that in the auditorium before the play even started was a dream, it put you in the centre of the action! I particularly liked the film before the play started as this also set the tone and gave the audience an insight into what they were going to experience. And it was an experience. A simple set, enhanced by being able to see the moon, loved this idea as the night being an all pervading presence. The styling of the whole piece was very well thought out and gave the actors freedom of movement which meant the play flowed. It is so important to get this right as the audience become a part of the ebb and flow along with the actors. Considering Maggie and Brick are solely on stage for a long time, with Maggie being the only one who really has the energy to move, it held us as an audience throughout. Tennessee Williams picks at the wounds of human nature, the good and the bad and reveals them to us in a way that makes us feel uncomfortable and there were many uncomfortable moments. The total dismissal of the female members of the family when they spoke in front of the men, the denial of Big Mama, the desolation of Brick, the desperation of Maggie, the smugness of Mae proudly displaying her belly and feral children, the arrogance of Big Daddy given another chance at life and choosing to choke a beautiful woman with diamonds – what an aggressive phrase!. Each character reflecting every aspect of who we are and what we dislike in ourselves and others. Nobody was 100% likeable, they all had their own motives and were simply doing what they had to do to survive. The crisis of his sexuality Brick experienced and fought within himself was central to how all these characters interacted. Maggie pushing for a response from Brick wanting the reaction but I feel frightened if she got the right answer. His father again, driving Brick to look at himself, defend himself. Your heart goes out to Brick, living his lie. Mendacity – as Brick says. Clearly the character workshops had really deepened the actors understanding of their role and each was played to the full. Congratulations in capturing all this and bringing it to life against the odds! I think the only thing I would have done differently would be to make the carnivorous plant shapes bigger and more obvious as I applaud the concept to use organic shape to symbolise the predatory feel of this play. They seemed a little lost as they were. Direction (of staging and acting) To attempt any live theatre at the moment is a challenge in itself with Covid still affecting us all. The fact that cast members had had to be replaced, some at very short notice, did not in any way detract from the quality of the play or the performances. Every actor on the stage gave 100% + enabling the audience to simply watch and allow the play to unfold before them with confidence. Strong characters, clear movement, every word could be heard and understood – not easy with a southern drawl. Equally impressive, nobody lost their accent, they were maintained throughout. Bravo! I mentioned earlier that the play flowed, the rhythm of the piece was almost hypnotic to watch. Moves appeared choreographed, Maggie’s nervy, snapping personality, Brick’s utter desolation, and slow moves; the other actors blending into this rhythm when on stage. Each actor had a strong sense of who their character was, sustaining this even when not speaking, but reacting to the action around them. A good cast with mixed experience which must have been a delight to work with. Even though this is a dysfunctional family, you got the sense that they were a family for all their faults and pretence. As a Director you want to draw the best from your cast, challenging them to explore aspects of their character and themselves and bring all that to the stage. I felt as if this had been achieved extremely well. I had moments of feeling sympathy, empathy, dislike, sadness and frustration – not unlike the people I was watching. The symbolism of the props which Brick finds comfort from, the football, the helmet, the jacket all belonging to Skipper held lovingly and like a child’s safety blanket and with such a feeling of sadness was very emotional. The final scene where Maggie is going to take full advantage of Brick and his finally ‘numbed of emotion feeling’ was really difficult to watch. I felt like I was party to a rape of someone’s whole being without being able to stop it. To achieve that as a Director and cast is a great feeling and the applause at the end was richly deserved. Set, costumes and props The set was excellent, I really liked the idea of the openness above the door, being able to see the moon throughout, such a creative addition. It created the link to the audience right through to the exterior of the bedroom, making me feel as if I was in the room with them, a little voyeuristic in a way. We see it now with people filming some drama they see being played out in front of them, rather than being in the moment with it. This made me feel I was part of this moment in time. As an audience you have to feel that and invest in the actors and the story. Looking at the audience, that was certainly the case. Nothing was obscured from the audience, sometimes sightlines can be difficult to work round with how furniture has to be placed, but nothing detracted or made any move look awkward or contrived. The symbolic plants on the wall were a good idea, but as I said before, really would have had more impact if they had been bigger, you couldn’t really pick them out as they were so the meaning was lessened. Costumes were very good and reflected each character. Maggie’s dresses were perfect, Big Mama and Big Daddy had a feeling of old style Southern style. Gooper and his immaculate suit, Mae with her heavily pregnant belly showing in a sweet dress that was at odds with her childish, behaviour and actions. The costumes matched the characters and the era. Big Mama’s sandals were a bit out of place, but in view of the speed at which she had had to learn and get costumed, I really think that is forgivable! It all felt right. Props is an often overlooked area of the play, but getting the right ones really adds to the overall look and feel of a piece. Whilst there weren’t masses needed, they were spot on and created the atmosphere and era which had been so carefully constructed by the Director and his cast and crew. Particularly important aside from creating the right ‘look’ for the time, were the football, helmet, jacket and kit all kept Brick had. His reminders of his lost friend and love, Skipper. There to be seen though the feelings were not allowed by himself or anyone else. There to be held tenderly for comfort by Brick, hidden in the closet literally and metaphorically. Clinically and determinedly removed and put back in the closet by Maggie at the end. Very clever and thought provoking. Individual Actors’ interpretations Ryan Bradley – Brick When I read in the programme that this was Ryan’s first appearance at Rossendale and his first serious drama, I wasn’t sure what I was going to see. But, goodness you would not have thought this was his first drama! What a find. Ryan clearly understood his character and played it to the absolute end with sensitivity and maturity. I think Brick was the only person I felt sorry for the whole way through. He had the vulnerability, the isolation, the self-disgust of Brick completely. Attractive so you could see Maggie’s desperation for him as a proper husband. Confident on stage, even in just a towel, which some would be nervous about. I felt he showed all the confusion and the struggle of a man who was battling inwardly with his demon, his love for another man, a love that he was unable to express, that destroyed him. A man who had lost his career in a sport that had defined him. Ryan handled this conflict so well. Steadily drinking throughout, compliant mostly with Maggie, rarely biting at first but eventually exploding with a scene that crackled. I felt Ryan showed this confusion and love for Skipper in how he spoke about him, how he reacted when others dared to speak of his relationship with Skipper. Sometimes quiet and withdrawn, other times lifting his voice to be heard. His body language changed throughout. You firstly thought he was just laid back and drunk, but as you watched, you could physically see the depression and shame in how he held himself, moved across the stage, spoke. The scene with Big Daddy was a powerful one where we finally saw the anguish of this man clearly, still denying who he was and how he felt about Skipper, dodging the obvious, appalled by the picture of the 2 men his father had insisted was there. Questioning how they communicate with each other, talking but never really saying anything. Ryan has the ability to make you put yourself in the character’s place and empathise. His mannerisms were those of a broken man. The quiet voice, the subdued stance, the sadness and sorrow apparent in how he spoke and moved and reacted. Weakened by so many things. I almost felt the same sense of relief when he finally felt the ‘click’ as you felt his torment would end, but Maggie had other ideas which was the most uncomfortable, voyeuristic feeling of the night. I think Ryan is a talented actor with much more to come. Can he travel to Keighley?! Rebecca Carney – Maggie What a tour de force from Rebecca who brought Maggie exploding on to the stage and dominated from the start. I really enjoyed Rebecca’s performance in Separate Tables and so was looking forward to seeing her again. I was not disappointed. Rebecca simply oozed the personality of Maggie, the sexual side, the desperate side, the submissive when suited side, the plotting, manipulative side. Such a strong performance which held me throughout. I loved her, hated her, felt sorry for her, felt she deserved what she got, in equal measure. All the time building to the final moment when she was absolutely determined to get what she wanted at all cost. Rebecca cleverly displayed all these aspects with her confident walk, her expressive hands, her posture and how she phrased each line. Her tone of voice changing constantly to reflect what and who she was talking to. Sucking up to Big Daddy (sorry can’t phrase it any other way!), defiant against Mae’s barbed comments, desperately throwing herself at Brick, I felt as smothered by her as Brick did. She also has a great stage presence even when still, which is a gift. Rebecca and Ryan played so well together, creating this dreadful relationship for us all to see. Excellent. Ben Ventress – Big Daddy I really enjoyed this performance, the arrogance, the epitome of a southern gentleman in the mannerisms and dress. But, oh what a mixture of beliefs and opinions. The shock when he says he can’t be bothered with poor Big Mama and the way he spoke to everyone, particularly the women; I was getting really angry sat in my seat! Then the way he talked about the 2 men who had shared a bed in the room where Brick and Maggie were, struck me as matter of fact and accepting which seemed totally against the character I had up to then thought him to be, I was very confused and I should be because that’s how we are. Often confused and side stepped by people when they don’t behave how we expect. Ben spoke with the authority of a man who knows he’s in charge and does not expect to be challenged, I’ve met a few of these and they are ruthless! Vulgar when speaking about his wife and other women, made my skin crawl! I liked the voice of Big Daddy, clear, contained, brash at times and assured, posture again reflecting the man who was not to be challenged by anyone, a measured walk and economy of movement added to the overall impression of this big personality. Dismissive of anything he wasn’t interested in. I felt his delight at being given a second chance, so he thought, at his life. The way he spoke when looking forward was noticeably different to how he addressed his family. A more powerful tone, more hopeful in a sense. I felt the only small improvement would be to have a more unblinking look which would further strengthen the authority of the character. I have to say, though, it cannot have been easy to direct and then be in your play, but you achieved not only a good strong play, but a good strong character. Christine West – Big Mama I loved Christine as Miss Meacham in Separate Tables and to say this had all been a bit of a last minute casting, Christine brought Big Mama to life just as she had Miss M. Submissive and almost wheedling when around Big Daddy, you could understand his frustration with her! Bold and outspoken when he wasn’t there, the matriarch of the family. Poor Big Mama appeared oblivious to the reality of her life and her family, Christine used her movements and voice to show each side of Big Mama. A stronger voice when Big Daddy wasn’t there, very submissive and almost whimpering when he was. Her physique changed too, shrinking away when Big Daddy spoke, wringing her hands and almost pleading in her stance. Opening her body when expressing her feelings when he was not there, more upright, clearer voice. Changing again when speaking to and about darling Brick, making Gooper feel invisible. Her voice changed, her body softened she leant towards him wherever he was in the room, the way she became sent the clear message that this was her favourite! Gooper on the other hand, received no such softness, her voice returned to normal, her body changed. Gooper, despite fathering quite a brood, was left under no illusion that the grandchild she wanted was Brick’s and he was the favourite. No sign of nerves, which I think I would have had, Christine gave a strong performance making you feel as frustrated as Big Daddy with her and yet sorry for her at the same time. Martyn Frost – Gooper Another good strong male actor – where do you find them? Martyn captured the man who has spent his life in his brother’s shadow. The jealousy, the willingness to do whatever he had to do to be noticed, the buttoned up, invisible until pushed to his limit, man of the family. You got the feeling Gooper had never put a foot wrong and been constantly usurped by Brick at every turn. Martyn played him to perfection. Quite a big man to look at, strong and good looking, he still managed to almost disappear into the background on stage by remaining still, which added to the feeling that he was not appreciated or valued by his family. Martyn conveyed the character’s frustration that he was constantly under estimated. I felt his anger and despair in how he stood, reacted or not, to the action and spoke differently with each character. Martyn spoke mostly as though he didn’t expect to be listened to, if that makes sense? An almost resigned tone to his voice and stature. Dominant in his behaviour when speaking to Mae, raising his voice to fight his case at the end where he adeptly showed this frustration and anger in definite moves, stronger tone of speech. Confident and comfortable on the stage which means the audience relax. Great characterisation. Helena Lockett – Mae Ooooh as soon as Mae spoke my hackles were up. What a character! But, as we women and mother’s know, we will fight for our cubs and that’s what Mae does all the time. Helena captured her so well. Flaunting her children and her pregnancy and rubbing Maggie’s nose in it at every opportunity. What is there to like about a person like this!? A great foil against Maggie, the two played really well together. I’ve witnessed this sniping in-law relationship many times and it was just right. The fact that she is referred to by Maggie as Sister Wife not Mae is so strange and yet insulting as if she doesn’t deserve her own name, or am I seeing too much? But it just struck me as almost anonymising both Mae and Gooper, making them irrelevant. Mae is most certainly not irrelevant and the way Helena played her, you certainly got the measure of her from the first spoken word and in her every movement. The smug tone of voice, the haughty turn of her head and body, flouncing and digging at Maggie and Brick. Her body language was different again to Maggie and big Mama’s. More confident than Mama but her face showing her sulkiness rather than submission when put down. The facetious tone when speaking about Maggie and Brick and her facial expressions again just revealing exactly what she thought and wanted! Her tone of voice changing again when referring to her children depending on who she was speaking to. Sweetness and light one minute, gloating the next. Touching her bump to draw even more attention to her motherhood. Another strong, confident actress. Nicholas Peat – Reverend Tooker Although there wasn’t a great deal for Nicholas to do, he created an almost Uriah Heap type character for the Rev! Lurking in the background with a sanctimonious smile, biding his time and then getting in the comment about the memorial windows when it looked like some money might be on the cards when Big Daddy died! The clergy always out for the chance to ease the path to God! At times Nicholas looked a little self-conscious on stage and a bit ill at ease, but this aside, he was a good choice for this character as he did make me chuckle with his facial expressions when listening to what was playing out in front of him and his awkwardness. This play really needs this light relief! Well done Nicholas on your debut at Rossendale. Nathaniel McCartney – Doc Baugh It can be difficult for an actor to make an impression when the part they play is not as involved as the others. A little like the Rev. However, Nathaniel looked the part of the Doc and although not much to say, his reactions were great when watching the other characters. He had a good accent as everyone did and had the assurance on stage as he delivered the truth about Big Daddy. This was his moment and he grasped it. As we know, there are no small parts only small actors and Nathaniel proved he is not a small actor. He delivered exactly what the role required and created his character with thought and confidence. Yet another good male actor for Rossendale. Lighting and Sound Well produced light and sound. I could see everything and hear everything easily. At my age, hearing can be a problem sometimes, but no such concerns. Again a good choice of music to set the mood. I loved the moon and the night sky, the fireworks and the children playing. Nothing detracted from what was happening on stage, it only enhanced and played beautifully alongside it. The film at the start was pitched just right, the quality of lighting on stage was great, the end scene took you into a different place with the lighting and staging, a place you really didn’t want to be. Good solid work again by the lighting and sound team. In conclusion I was looking forward to coming back to Rossendale as I knew I was in for a great night of theatre. I wasn’t disappointed. This was a strong production, excellently directed and with some strong performances from the cast. What a joy it must be to have so many talented actors at your society. The dedication to their craft was obvious and having heard at the beginning what you had experienced and had to overcome to get the play on, I was full of admiration. Our own play at Keighley the same week had seen the leading man taken ill as he came off stage on the opening night, so I absolutely take my hat off to any society that is still pushing on through what have been challenging times. A skilled piece of directing, a great cast of actors who worked so well together and created a great piece of theatre for the audience, a lovely venue with a wonderful feel to it, a hardworking team backstage all adds up to a good night at the theatre and one which I greatly appreciated on a balmy night over the Yorkshire border! Thank you again for allowing me to come and join you. I’ve already planned what I want to come and see next season just as an ordinary audience member, it’s worth the journey! Debbie Ellison

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