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Friday, 21 September, 2001, 14:59 GMT 15:59 UK
Fraser shines in impurrfect Cat
Brendan Fraser and Frances O'Connor
The play brings the passion of the Deep South to the West End
By the BBC's Neil Smith

The sight of a bare-chested Brendan Fraser hopping around the stage in a pair of boxers is sure to get his fans' pulses racing.

But while the hunky Mummy star makes an accomplished West End debut, Cat On A Hot Tin Roof is a decidedly lukewarm affair.

Tennessee Williams's tale of sweaty passions and guilty secrets in America's Deep South was memorably filmed in 1958 with Elizabeth Taylor and Paul Newman.

Director Anthony Page has assembled a crack cast, including veteran actor Ned Beatty and Australian starlet Frances O'Connor.
Cat ona Hot Tin Roof
Maggie desperately tries to break down Brick's barriers

Yet, his lacklustre revival fails to live up to the movie's enduring legacy.

It's no fault of Fraser's. His brooding portrayal of Brick Pollitt - an ex-high school football star turned embittered alcoholic, trapped at home by a broken foot - reveals depths of feeling only hinted at in the effects-laden blockbusters that made his name.

Indeed, it's his scenes with Beatty - brilliantly bullish and insensitive as "Big Daddy", the plantation-owning patriarch slowly succumbing to cancer - that provide the show's most compelling moments.

O'Connor, however, is miscast as Brick's neglected wife "Maggie the Cat", the Southern spitfire desperate for a child.

Desire

Her facility with accents - evidenced in Mansfield Park, Madame Bovary and Spielberg's A.I. - seems to have deserted her judging from the shrill Southern gabble she adopts here.

Moreover - and how does one put this tactfully? - she is not exactly the voluptuous sex kitten Taylor was.

The drama's smoking gun - Brick's suppressed homosexual desire for dead schoolmate Skipper - was played down in the film, which climaxed with Brick finally surrendering to Maggie's feline charms.

As in his movie Gods and Monsters, though, Fraser is not afraid to explore his character's ambivalent sexuality, and the result is a compelling blend of machismo and self-doubt.

Epic

This is a show where the women are very much overshadowed by the men, an imbalance heightened by Abigail McKern's pantomimic turn as Brick's scheming sister-in-law Mae and Gemma Jones' blowsy portrayal of the self-deluding "Big Mama".

That said, everyone in the cast is put in the shade by Maria Bjornson's epic set, in which the slatted walls of Big Daddy's mansion come to resemble bars in a cage.

Not the cat's pyjamas, then, but far from a catastrophe.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is on at the Lyric Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue.

See also:

26 Sep 01 | Reviews
Cat On A Hot Tin Roof: Your views
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