A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams
Malvern Theatres, April 10
Review by Lee Farley
TENNESSEE Williams’ plays are popular at the moment. Sometimes a playwright speaks to a particular time, a particular circumstance.
This is certainly true here, as Chelsea Walker’s thrilling modern production focuses on a young woman’s breakdown in the aftermath of unwanted male attention.
Every aspect of this production by Nuffield Southampton Theatres, Theatre Clwyd and English Touring Theatre is skillfully employed in the service of telling the story of Blanche Dubois’ journey into darkness. Georgia Lowe’s set design and Lee Curran’s lighting conjure intimacy, oppression, hot summers, and poverty. There’s a fantastic, evocative free jazz soundtrack composed by saxophonist Nubya Garcia, part of the UK’s emerging contemporary jazz scene. We’re in a naturalistic, convincing, modern New Orleans neighbourhood. As Blanche’s intense breakdown unravels, as she articulates her anguish at being lost in a world that has mistreated her, the production unravels to match. Non-naturalistic elements intrude, Blanche’s fantasies are played out, and her nightmares are made brutally real. Her world collapses, and the production collapses around her – the physical design breaks apart, and the play’s dynamics are deconstructed. This is incredibly powerful, dazzlingly theatrical, imaginative and ruthless. I’ve not seen a more compelling production of Tennessee Williams’ work. Faithful to the realism of the text, but adding aspects of thrillingly inventive practice. The effect is stunning.
The performances are young, muscular, fast-paced, relatable, detailed, enthralling. You can’t take your eyes off the unfolding action. Amber James’ Stella is torn between maintaining the reality of a life and siding with her sister’s dreaming. She shows us exactly why she puts up with Patrick Knowles’ aggressive, posturing fratboy Stanley and his unreconstructed, entitled male gaze. Her expectations are different from her sister’s. Kelly Gough’s Blanche is searching for something meaningful from her relationships, she exposes the cracks in the Kowalski’s marriage and is punished severely for her intrusion. She is flirtatious, heartbroken, wistful, intelligent, apologetic, brave. Her journey is utterly absorbing and we are left heartbroken at the brutality of her final moments.
This is a fantastic production, it thrusts the 1947 play into 2018, shedding new light on the relationships and context, whilst paying detailed attention to the subtleties and poetry of Williams’ language. It’s on until Saturday in Malvern, I strongly recommend it.