Magazine article The Spectator

Slice of Life

Magazine article The Spectator

Slice of Life

Article excerpt

Cat on a Hot tin roof

Novello

The Stefan Golaszewski Plays

Bush

Revolutionary republics, like the USA and Soviet Russia, never really get rid of royalty. They just appoint surrogates. America's yearning for icons has accorded the actor James Earl Jones a rank somewhere between Richard the Lionheart and John the Baptist. The producers of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof approached him on bended knee ('You don't audition James Earl Jones, ' gushed one) and begged for the royal assent. Good King James was probably giggling behind his hand as he boomed out an affirmation with the famous Darth Vader rumble. I bet he was thrilled to smithereens to be offered a lead role on Broadway as he approached his 80th year. His voice is a marvel. If it were a beauty spot it would teem with artists and photographers trying to immortalise its rocky complexities and echoing caverns, its bosky resonances and foresty groves. But it's not a national park.

It's just a voice. And when it arrived on stage, accompanied by its aging guardian, it drew a feverish round of applause that disguised a hint of anxiety that London might not love what Broadway had adored. Earl Jones, thank goodness, has both the presence and the stagecraft to match the gift of nature he carries with him. He embraces the role of Big Daddy like a debt owed for many decades.

He begins as an angry, self-regarding monster, bullying his sons, shrieking at his daughters-in-law, lashing out at his wife with everything except his fists. Only in the second act does his humanity shine through and the complexities of his overbearing personality acquire shape, substance and pathos. Adrian Lester, as his tortured son Brick, performs similar acrobatics.

Lester is one of those actors who is watchable even when the odds are stacked against him. In the first act he plays a cold, sullen and quite frankly rather tedious sourpuss who necks whisky by the bucketful and reacts to his luscious wife with the three magic words, 'Take a lover.' Yet it's a compelling and often extremely funny portrait of frozen rage. In act two, drawn out of himself qby his doting, if doubting, father he faces up to his latent homosexuality. The towering performances of Earl Jones and Lester bind the production together and easily compensate for some perfunctory efforts in the minor roles.

Derek Griffiths adds wonderful comic touches as an embarrassed pastor and Nina Sosanya bristles with steely conviction as Mae, the exquisitely bitchy sister-in-law. …

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