A man and a woman, in love. And then her sister comes to stay. The plot of A Streetcar Named Desire is as simple, and as complex, as that.
Helen Brown’s cast bring an assured maturity to this play, and her production is a superbly classy one, which, just as Tennessee Williams intended, leaves us with an aching sense of loss and a desire for what might have been.
Roaring, plate-smashing Stanley Kowalski, played with intensity and ruthlessness by Freddy Williams, is a working class man’s man, an alpha male, who snatched his wife Stella from her refined upbringing. Eve Hartley’s sensitive and subtle portrayal of a wife in love with an unpredictable husband is both believable and disturbing. She has to choose, in the end, between her loyalty to him and to her own sister.
Abi Watkinson’s pitch-perfect portrayal of sister Blanche means we, like Stanley, are compelled to watch her every move, from the moment she arrives, poised but out of place, in the opening scene. Her dominance of her sister, her manipulation of poor Mitch – a strong performance from Toby Pattinson – and her flirtation with a surprised Alex Ainslie, as the paper boy, lead us to believe that she will be able to outsmart Stanley too, until her past catches up with her.
Blanche told the truth once in her life, has suffered the consequences, and is now determined to create a fantasy world of make-believe. Tennessee Williams, like Oscar Wilde, wrote plays about truths and secrets, perhaps because, just like Wilde, he himself was having to live a lie.
This cast and crew, who have worked together many times before, created the seedy, seductive ambience of New Orleans right from the start. We are treated to another beautifully detailed set, with the pastel shades of sun-kissed south counterposed with the 1950s’ breakfast cereal on the kitchen shelf and complemented by the oh-so-tight white T-shirts and nuanced dress choices.
The balcony is used to great effect: like us, the neighbours can hear and see it all. The ‘jazz piano’ that Tennessee Williams requires in the script is, wonderfully, played and sung live by a talented group of actor musicians: Dalton Foster on the piano, with Ben Lloyd, Sophia Lyons, Ayesha Mitchell and Grace Anderson singing the blues.
The ensemble playing from this group of skilled Upper Sixth performers creates a seethingly claustrophobic atmosphere. Koby Ferdinand-Okpala and Aaron Clark form Stanley’s ‘pack’, while Stella and her female friends – played by Sophia Lyons and Charlie Tonks – take the brunt of their outbursts. When the mysterious doctor and nurse (Ben Lloyd and Charlotte Roberts) arrive to take Blanche away to the mental institution that Stanley has arranged for her, we are uncertain whether Blanche understands what will happen to her. We know, however, that it is Stella’s turn to try to believe what she wants to be true. Her life will never be the same.
Click on the large image below to open and scroll through a gallery of photos by William Temple Photography.