Review – A Streetcar Named Desire

A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams – English Touring Theatre – New Wolsey Theatre till Sat 28th April and touring

Tennessee Williams’ powerful play was written in 1947 but in some ways it is timeless. It certainly resonates with us today with its themes of violence and oppression against women and the complex reasons people stay in relationships.

Director Chelsea Walker has made a conscious decision to place it in the modern day – yet in some ways this had diminished the production in that with modern pop music instead of steamy jazz, tee shirts and sweats instead of cool open collared shirts and tight waisted dresses we fail to get the feel and the vibe of 1950’s New Orleans that in many ways is integral to the drama. And yet we don’t get it replaced with anything that is particularly 2018 that would add anything to the story.  For instance – there are no mobile phones, no laptops or TV or Spotify. In the apartment the characters use a 70’s wall phone and an 80’s cassette radio and the beer is kept in a 90’s cool box. Weird!

The set is also too much a blank canvas – just a wooden box really with no adornments to suggest the lives of the people that live there. But none of this really detracts from a set of powerful performances from the main protagonists that exposes some raw and visceral emotions that are at the heart of this play.

Stella comes from a well off plantation owning Southern family but is now living with her rough Polish/American husband Stanley in a rented couple of rooms in down town New Orleans. Amber James makes her streetwise and sassy against the raw animal emotions with which Patrick Knowles plays Stan. He gets the restlessness of his character’s barely controlled anger and the scenes with his mates playing poker always threaten to spill over into something more violent. I would have liked a bit more unspoken lust between the lovers – but perhaps that was also the modern day interpretation.

Stella has worked out a way of living with Stan that gives him his head while remaining in charge of the relationship – but then into their lives rocks her sister Blanche played with a wonderful mixture of fragility and poise by Kelly Gough – who has managed to lose the family land to debt and has nowhere else to go.

She is already damaged goods in so many ways – and her presence starts to reveal the cracks in Stella and Stan’s relationship as well as her own mental instability.

Like the streetcar Blanche arrives on all the characters are on a track to a destiny they can’t escape and as the  play charts  their inevitable descents into what life has mapped out for them from the beginning, tragedy is inevitable.

This isn’t a flawless production – the accents were difficult to get a grip on at the beginning and some of the modern inclusions – a glitter ball instead of a paper lantern for instance – were a bit irritating. But this is still a pretty good rendition of Williams’ masterpiece – both disturbing and challenging in equal measure. And there were some good performances from the supporting cast – especially Dexter Flanders as Blanche’s potential love interest Mitch.

There are adult themes so not recommended for under 16’s, and it is quite a long haul so not recommended for those with a short concentration span – but for everyone else you’ll find this production is worth the effort.

Suzanne Hawkes

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