r H //4 E-
Backstage at the National Theatre a little like one of those futuristic. dreamlike films: endless corridors lined with anonymous doors terminate in disarmineg similar sets ofswing doors and stairs. Given the wrong floor level for [an Charleson‘s dressing room we end up in the wardrobe. inhabited only by eerie silent dummies sporting beautiful period costumes. Over the Tannoy a metallic voice summons household names to the stage-door. Here. even more than in the foyer where audiences are milling about and hopefuls queueing for tickets for Peter Hall‘s seminal Anthony and Cleopatra. you get a sense of the scale and stature of the place. Eventually we find [an Charleson. sandwiched into a small dressing Mom. resting between rehearsal and
6 The List 1‘) Feb — 3 Mar 1988
MI 7‘ '1
}. (’3' 'Ft._‘
about his central role in the play.
performance. In less than an hour he will appear on the Lyttleton stage in a part not seen on the main stage in this country for thirty years. He looks tired. but explains that the difficulty ofthe role and the emotional power of the play is what drew him back into theatre after a self-imposed break of two years. Tennessee Williams‘ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. was given its British premiere thirty years ago by Peter Hall. now outgoing Artistic Director of the National. Then its themes of repressed homosexuality. frustrated desire and failing marriage were considered so shocking that it was banned by the Lord Chamberlain and performed before a club audience — and it has scarcely seen the light ofday since. ‘It‘s incredible that it hasn‘t been done for thirty
years.‘ says Charleson. ‘I think it‘s a real masterpiece.‘
He plays Brick. a formerly successful. athletic young sports commentator. who is sliding into taciturn alcoholism. Suffocated by his existence in the wealthy Deep South of Fifties‘ America, he has rejected the materialism and , hypocrisy of the lives of those about him. Searching for purity. he has elevated a close friendship he had with a fellow commentator to an ideal memory. vigorously denying that it had anything to do with homosexual attraction. As the play opens he has already settled into an isolated silence, and is refusing to sleep with his wife and people the world further with impurity. His wife. the ‘cat‘ ofthe play‘s title (played by Lyndsay Duncan with so
TI. HOT TO HANDLE
Tennessee Williams‘ Cat on a Hot Tin Roofhas just received its first performance in thirty years at the hands of the National Theatre. Asthey , bring it up to Scotland. Scottish actor Ian Charleson talks to Sarah Hemming
much smouldering sexuality and sadness you could light a match off her). goads him with her frustated desire. In return he torments her through rejection. but there exists between them a sort ofcomplicity and Howard Davies‘ production builds the highly charged atmosphere so that it suddenly snaps out like a tensely coiled spring in the second act.
‘In one way it's very easy to do because it‘s so melodramatic — you can really go to town on it.‘ says Charleson. ‘But it is difficult to build Brick‘s character because you‘ve got to find out what it is he is choosing not to say — and then choose not to say it. Which is an active rather than a passive thing. I think one of the problems of the role is that it could be a bit dull — there‘s this guy who sits