A Streetcar Named Desire

Tue 23rd – Sat 27th February 2016

reviews

Jessie Davidson

at 23:36 on 23rd Feb 2016

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A Streetcar Named Desire is a dramatic and compelling production of a wonderfully psychological play. With monologues and clever use of sound, it will leave you questioning the breach between imagination and reality.

Set in 1940s downtown New Orleans, this play offers a tale of passion, disturbance, and the alluring “streetcar” which drives you to despicable ends. The focus falls mostly on three characters, especially the fascinating Blanche DuBois (Bethan Davidson), haunted by her disturbing past. This production is a huge achievement. It successfully combines a dramatic depiction of the play’s present with deeply moving monologues delving deep into the past.

The acting is strong all round, with some magnificent performances. The terrifying hulk Stanley Kowalski (Seth Kruger) is utterly convincing, complete with a mud stained vest top (which he frequently throws off) and charcoal smeared cheeks. His raging speeches and drunken stage fights capture the power of his persona. Yet he is more than a two-dimensional monster, with his equal mastery of the depressed drunk sobbing for his wife.

Bethan Davidson, as the compelling Blanche, gives an outstanding performance. She perfectly captures the character’s mental perturbation, playing sometimes the quivering woman clasping at the whisky bottle, sometimes the seductress putting on her flirtatious façade. Her story, revealed slowly and cleverly, draws you in, evoking sometimes immense sympathy, sometimes annoyance or even abhorrence at her actions.

Stella Kowalski (played by Kate Marston) acts as a mediator between these two extreme characters, and in her we see the tension between restraint and desire. The supporting roles are also generally well executed, including the awkward Young Collector (Felix Koninx) and the upright mother’s boy Harold Mitchell (Max Noble) whom Blanche tries to entice.

The venue of the Corpus playroom provides something of a challenge for staging, two of the sides being audience seating. While this was generally coped with well, there were a few moments where backs were turned to the audience. One important flirtation scene was blocked out for half of the auditorium by minor characters playing cards in the foreground.

The props on the other hand certainly added to the drama. Authentic jazz music played, and the 1940s room was convincingly furnished with faded photographs and an impressive collection of liqueurs. Blanche donned a range of flaunty 40s costumes, bringing to life her extravagance and concern for appearance, though for other characters costume seemed too modern and could have been adapted to the right time period.

Sounds were used excellently. The eerie tune which penetrated moments of silence, and the boom of the gunshot, drew you further into Blanche’s mental state, confusing past and present, fiction and reality.

The play is highly psychological and characterised by its brilliant monologues. One, focusing on Stanley’s bestial nature, is rendered a speech of awful hilarity by his position on the corner of the stage. Later, a highly personal monologue illustrates the trauma of Blanche’s past. Bethan Davidson is the star of the show, performing nearly all of the play’s monologues, and she maintains interest by creating impressive variety between them.

With a running time of over two hours, A Streetcar Named Desire has a few moments where tension drops and the plot seems to dwindle. But overall the cast kept it fabulously engaging. Delving into psychology and excellently capturing the dramatic action of the play, they create a very strong performance which is well worth seeing.

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