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Elegant treatment of a HOT classic

"I feel all the time like a cat on a hot tin roof." So says the agitated Maggie in Tennessee Williams' play of the same name, uttering a phrase that has since transcended its origins and seeped into everyday use.

Now, 100 years after the playwright's birth, one of his finest works is back in Dublin at the Gate Theatre.

The action takes place in a bedroom suite of the large stately home of Big Daddy Pollitt, owner of one of the largest cotton plantations in Mississippi. It is Big Daddy's (Owen Roe) 65th birthday, so his two sons and their wives have gathered to celebrate along with Big Mama (Marion O'Dwyer).

Big Daddy's cancer condition has just been declared terminal, yet his eldest son Gooper (David O'Meara) and wife Mae (Donna Dent) have decided to keep the news from the elderly couple until after the party. Their actions aren't altogether sensitive, as both harbour ambitions to take control of the estate after Big Daddy's death.

Meanwhile, younger son Brick (Richard Flood), sulks drunkenly as he nurses a broken ankle, while his social-climbing wife Maggie (Fiona O'Shaughnessy) pleads with him to restore their crumbling marriage.

The fading elegance of Brick and Maggie's bedroom is beautifully illustrated by Francis O'Connor's set design.

Straight away, the happy family facade crumbles. Maggie the Cat looks every inch the scorned woman, slinky and feline as she attempts to seduce the uninterested Brick. He is grieving the death of his best friend Skipper, and taunted by the suggestion that theirs was a homosexual relationship.

This is a tough game with high stakes, but the commanding patriarch is fully aware of the machinations afoot. Big Daddy is unapologetic in his dislike of his wife, his favouritism for his younger son and his desire to help by probing the truth behind his relationship with Skipper and his failing marriage.

As the night wears on, the ugly truth rears its head. Owen Roe is captivating as the masterful Big Daddy, complemented by Marion O'Dwyer's devoted Big Mama. Dent combines an Earth Mother exterior with vicious ambition, while O'Shaughnessy stalks the stage reeking of pent-up desperation and determination. To crown a gripping production, the entire cast excels at the hard-to-master southern twang. HHHHH