Theatre: Take One Southern Family, Simmer Gently and Wait. ; Cat on a Hot Tin Roof Lyric Theatre LONDON the Magic Toyshop Wolsey Theatre IPSWICH Cherished Disappointments in Love Soho Theatre LONDON Oedipus Viaduct Theatre HALIFAX as the Beast Sleeps Tricycle Theatre LONDON
Bassett, Kate, The Independent (London, England)
This has been a week of near-incessant incest. Countrywide, theatre directors seemed obsessed with family congresses of the messed-up Freudian variety and other sexual taboos. In the West End's high calibre revival of Tennessee Williams's Cat on a Hot Tin Roof - at the Lyric - everything appears lovely at first glance. It's the 1950s and, in a Mississippi mansion, Frances O'Connor's Maggie slips in and out of pretty party frocks. Her husband Brick (Brendan Fraser, recently seen in The Mummy Returns) reclines on a lounger by airy French windows.
Yet all is not hunky-dory. The bedroom walls - with strips missing - suggest a cage and Brick's marriage is blighted by festering aggression. Fraser stares morosely into space while O'Connor proves neurotically vain and catty. She declares Brick's pa, Big Daddy, eyes her lecherously and insinuates that Brick and his late buddy were closet gays. He won't sleep with her and is slugging back the bourbon. Maggie and her sister-in-law, Mae, are also clawing over Big Daddy's wealth as he has inoperable cancer. When they say, "The whole system's poisoned," they ain't kidding.
What's remarkable, however, is how satirically funny this domestic scene can be. Mae's chubby brats form a hilariously ghastly chorus line, singing for grandpop's birthday. Meanwhile Ned Beatty's Big Daddy, resembling a dilapidated hog, is a seriously brutish and occasionally tender patriarch. Also superb, Gemma Jones's waddling Big Mama is invasive but homely and pitifully shaky under attack.
Williams's heated dialogues can seem long-winded but this is a rich drama about addiction, greed and destruction. Though Anthony Page's cast never get really ugly in their dealings, Fraser and O'Connor have flashpoints of screaming hatred. Mighty fine if not totally electrifying.
Repressive Uncle Philip, a perverted puppeteer, is head of the household in Angela Carter's dark tale, The Magic Toyshop - dramatised by Bryony Lavery for Shared Experience's new touring production (which I caught at the Wolsey, Ipswich). Our orphaned pubescent heroine, Melanie, is roped into one of Uncle's twisted entertainments - playing Leda opposite her brother's lustful swan. Happily, she escapes as the polluted old devil's property goes up in flames.
Hannah Watkins's gamine Melanie is engagingly sweet and Penny Layden is poignant as her downtrodden aunt. Damian O'Hare is excellent as the puppeteer's rebellious apprentice, but John Stahl's grim-faced Philip has a ludicrously exaggerated Cockney accent. Liz Cooke's set is beautifully spare and unsettling - with a front door adrift amidst sloping floorboards. …