Cat On A Hot Tin Roof
Schaubühne am Lehniner Platz @ Her Majesty’s Theatre
2:00pm, Sat 15 Mar 2008
I saw Nora last Festival, and two years later it has left a curious taste – technical merit still resonates, but there’s a very impersonal, detached feeling too. It’s almost like I’d watched the production in some sort of sensory vacuum, the visual spectacle of the glorious rotating stage making as much of an impression as the cold and aloof German delivery didn’t.
And so, when returning to another Schaubühne production, I kinda knew what to expect: impeccable production values. Distancing delivery. A troubled emotional response.
I wasn’t disappointed. Or rather, I was somewhat disappointed, but not surprisingly so.
Taking my seat in Her Majesty’s again, I remember looking at the set with interest; where Nora‘s set startled you with it’s trickery well into the performance, Cat On A Hot Tin Roof lays itself bare for all to see. Plexiglass walls allow us to see the comings and goings of the cast, and allows us constant access to the stage’s centrepiece – the buzzard enclosed above the main performance area.
Now, the buzzard doesn’t actually do much during the performance – a flap here, a shit there, the odd distracting muted caw or flinch. And I can’t help but wonder – why was it there? Presumably, it’s supposed to create a feeling of foreboding, of menace, like an overseeing deity hovering above the display of social decay being presented onstage, ready to pick clean the bones. But, thankfully, the subject matter at hand does a pretty decent job of that anyway – buzzard, or no buzzard.
This was, of course, a production of the Tennessee Williams play, and I reckon it would be folly of me to attempt to summarise it here. Suffice to say that the performances were decent, though the previously mentioned Germanic dialogue delivery feels very remote from the southern drawl we’d expect from the cast. That said, the maliciousness of the characters surrounding Big Daddy’s fortune, as well as the sexual tension associated with Brick and Skipper (and the sexual malaise of Brick and Maggie) are all powerfully communicated; when Maggie spits “we’re living in the same cage,” the bile in her passion is there for all to feel, clunky language barriers or not.
And that brings us back to Nora – and the realisation that it was much more suited to the presentation and style of Schaubühne am Lehniner Platz than Cat On A Hot Tin Roof. The former was very European, the latter very American – and the emphasis on the latter seems to be expressed with nods to classic Americana, like the oddball slapstick pie fight. Even the use of Led Zeppelin – opening with the powerful No Quarter, punctuating with Babe I’m Going To Leave You – feels to be an especially western tactic (especially the former, which manages – with some flickering house lights – to evoke a thundery and turbulent atmosphere). And despite the added theatrical flourishes – the odd projection onto glass, synced with Act changes & more Led Zep – Cat On A Hot Tin Roof pales in comparison to Schaubühne’s previous piece… but I don’t think it’s because of lesser quality, more that my appreciation of Nora‘s qualities has matured.