Oliver Johnstone stars in Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, directed by Anthony Almeida, which will open at Curve on 3 September and then tour venues across England and Wales.
Following the success of Curve’s production of A Streetcar Named Desire, this bold new revival of Tennessee Williams’ lyrical Pulitzer Prize-winning masterpiece is a blazing portrayal of what it takes to survive in a society where we’re all desperate to feel free.
You’re starring in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof at Leicester Curve, how would you describe this production of Tennessee Williams’ classic?
Lovingly reimagined and reinterpreted for a modern audience. We’re honouring the spirit of Williams’ original classic. But it’s stripped back. We’re aiming to get right to the core, the spirit of the rich characters Williams created.
What does it mean to you to be playing Brick, and what excites you the most about the character?
It means a lot. I’m thankful for the opportunity to play one of Williams’ best-known characters. But once you accept a role that’s been played hugely successfully so many times before, you have to put all that out of your mind and treat it as if it’s a brand-new play and role. I have to focus on how I see and understand Brick, what I can offer.
I’m excited about exploring the contrast between how Brick behaves on the surface and what is going on internally. He is constantly described as cool, aloof, detached, but under the skin is a man at war with himself. He has an alcohol problem. I’ve always been interested in alcoholism – the effect it has on relationships, the patterns of behaviour, the reasons why.
And what have you found most challenging about taking on the role?
I’m onstage for most of the play and I drink a lot throughout, so building in time for a toilet break has been at the forefront of my process.
What’s it been like working with Anthony Almeida, winner of the 2019 Royal Theatrical Support Trust (RTST) Sir Peter Hall Director Award?
I’ve loved working with Anthony. His approach is thrilling; his instinct is to flip preconceived notions, to examine the play from a different viewpoint and to thoroughly explore each character’s POV and mental state. It’s nuanced. For me, that’s a dream approach. To have a director encouraging me to try something I wouldn’t have come up with by myself.
He has a very clear idea of what he wants, especially from a design perspective – he and Rosanna Vize have created a striking, almost clinical look. But he’s genuinely collaborative. He listens to all the voices in the room.
And he’s brave. He has reverence for Williams’ play, but a healthy amount. I think he feels it is his responsibility as a director tell a story that may have been written in 1955, but that speaks to now.
Why do you think the work of Tennessee Williams still resonates with audiences today?
Tennessee Williams wrote great stories! He was so good at portraying real, emotional, complex people. Often his characters are deeply flawed, lonely, likeable characters. Characters who are trapped in some way. As attitudes towards mental health have shifted, it sheds a new light on these characters.
And alongside that, “Cat” in particular captures the difficult, tangled dynamics of family relationships. I think there’s always value in watching stories about family; how are the relationships similar? What’s identifiable? What’s shocking?
What would you say to anyone thinking of coming to see Cat on a Hot Tin Roof?
Buy a ticket! Enjoy the shared experience of a live thing with strangers who will have a completely different response to you.
If you know nothing about the play – expect to be hooked by a play about truth and lies, family and mental health. If you know the play – expect to be surprised.