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‘Cat’ set to provoke audiences

Victoria Dixon and Teig Sadhana playing Maggie and Brick. Photo: Helen Drum.

THE ceiling fans will be whirring and the mint juleps will be on ice when Canberra REP kicks off for the year with “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof”, Tennessee Williams’ self-declared favourite play.

“Cat” has achieved a level of popular fame from the film starring Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, only surpassed by “A Streetcar Named Desire”, starring Marlon Brando and Vivian Leigh, so it’s easily forgotten that it’s quintessentially theatrical – a series of bouts between strong-minded, loud-mouthed characters and those whose zest for life is weaker.

Earlier in the week at Canberra REP Theatre, the media was treated to a preview of what’s to come when the show opens in preview tonight, February 18, and runs until March 6.

Only director Anne Somes and the two central characters were there, Teig Sadhana playing the inebriate, white-haired boy of the Pollitt family, and Victoria Dixon as Maggie (the “cat” of the title), the girl from the back-blocks who has married into a rich Mississippi family and is determined to keep her husband.

Maggie and Brick. Photo: Helen Drum.

This play about lies and the spirit of survival is so famous that there are no spoilers in saying that for much of the play theirs looks like a loveless marriage – “I can’t stand you”, Brick roars at Maggie in one of the fiercer moments.

The other non-secret is that Brick’s best mate and fellow athlete, Skipper, has committed suicide, leaving a huge hole in his heart – but were they lovers, or as Brick puts it in horror, “did sodomy”?

Some of the implied content doesn’t sit easily with modern-day actors, and views have changed in Canberra since the last time REP did the show with Janie Lawson and Duncan Ley in the two main roles.

Sadhana is quick to point out that the question of whether Brick and Skipper ever had sex is not to the point; what is more important is how Brick and Maggie look to the future.

Dixon believes that if the men had been lovers, Maggie would have been pretty tolerant about it, on the basis that it would have been like “one of those beautiful, ideal things they tell about in the Greek legends”. But as the super-survivor of the play, one who, like Brick’s father Big Daddy, has clawed her way to respectability, she asserts that Skipper is dead and they’re still alive.

“This play uses the device of truth-telling,” Dixon says and throughout, the layers of deception are peeled off.

Brick uses alcohol to obliterate his pain and from the beginning, it looks like a mismatch between husband and wife. At the end, Williams puts a big question mark on that.

Dixon and Sadhana will be happy if the play makes audiences uncomfortable, so they walk out asking if a future child “sired by Brick, and out of Maggie the Cat” is even possible.

You’ll have to be there to be part of that debate.

“Cat on a Hot Tin Roof”, Canberra REP Theatre, 3 Repertory Lane, Acton, February 18 (preview) to March 6. Bookings to 6257 1950.

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Helen Musa

Helen Musa

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