Set play: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

5th October 2001 at 01:00

In his memoirs, Tennessee Williams cited Cat on a Hot Tin Roof as his favourite, the one that came "closest to being a work of art and a work of craft" in its vision of greed, lust and envy in the American South.

It begins with Brick - the favourite son of Big Daddy, a plantation owner in the Mississippi Delta - drinking himself silly rather than facing the demands of his childless wife, Maggie, who finds living with an alcoholic precarious and painful.

In act two, Brick's ambivalent sexuality is exposed, while his father, who has cancer, has to face certain death. At the same time, Maggie competes with Brick's brother's wife, Mae, for Big Daddy's affections and the family inheritance.

Director Anthony Page's engrossing production uses the Broadway ending suggested by the original director, Elia Kazan, and a lot more hopeful than Williams's original version. But Page has added some lines from the more pessimistic draft, making this production a hybrid.

But if Brendan Fraser, the square-jawed action man of the filmnbsp; The Mummy , looks the part of Brick, he doesn't go much further than portraying what Maggie calls his "detached quality" as a rather sulky indifference, exhausted, withdrawn, too sozzled even to hate. Not until the end of his epic scene with Big Daddy does Fraser shows some passion.

By contrast, Frances O'Connor's Maggie is full of vitality. Wiry, jagged and frustrated, with a voice like a siren and hands like flexed claws, she signals her determination to hang on to her husband.

Lyric Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue, London W1 until December 22. Box office: 020 7494 5045

  • Picture: Brendan Fraser as Brick
    • A longer version of this review appears in this week's Friday magazine

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