As the first Mermaids production to go up in the Students’ Association’s new venue, The Stage, Cat On a Hot Tin Roof served as a reminder of the power of a traditional theatre setting. The slick new auditorium was dominated by a vast and impressive replica of a 1950’s bedroom; Danielle Donnally’s set design showed remarkable attention to period detail, with the interesting addition of hollow wall frames to remind us that “the walls have ears in this house.” The buzzword for this production, indeed, was period detail – the costume and make-up were consistently period-appropriate, bringing a facade of glamour to Williams’ domestic tragedy.
The costumes for lead female Madeleine Inskeep stood out in particular – a beautiful handmade period slip and an authentic 50s green lace dress really encapsulated the sort of elegance that is glazed over the surface of this searing social commentary. The searing social commentary itself did not fail to deliver. Director Bennett Bonci pulled together a show of convincing characters and very clear emotional trajectories; helped along the way by his talented cast, Bonci’s directing created a show that was realistic and powerful enough to match his impressive set. One small problem with the direction was the children – in a University setting it is almost impossible to find actors who will look and behave convincingly like children on the same stage as their contemporaries, and, although this is unavoidable, the children’s scenes did detract a little from the production. The physicality of these actors, as well as the zealous acting into which Bonci directed them, took the audience a little out of the world of the American South in 1956. They did, however, serve to explain the highly-strung and aggressively feminine character of their mother Mae, a “monster of fertility” played masterfully by Gabriella Masding. Where cast were concerned, the standard was consistently high – lured by the appeal of Williams’ play (which deals with pertinent issues of envy, death, alcoholism, domestic violence and homosexuality), some of St Andrews’ finest acting talent took to the stage for this production.
Maggie the Cat, played by Madeleine Inskeep, was a striking figure in white, full of compassion for her suppressed homosexual husband and her grieving mother-in-law: Inskeep’s subtle acting, far removed from the improvisation of her Blind Mirth fame, had a way of appealing to and drawing in the audience. Another standout actor, Eilidh MacKinnon, took on the role of the elderly Big Mama who is left broken at the end of the play when the love of her life passes away. MacKinnon’s portrayal was nuanced, mixing parody with quiet appreciation, and great tragedy. To portray the role of an elderly woman, whose emotions are far more complex, surely, than we can understand, takes great sympathy and very great talent – MacKinnon is surely one to watch in the coming years. Cat On a Hot Tin Roof was a stand-out production, and is to be taken as a good omen for the future of St Andrews theatre on The Stage.