first night

A Streetcar Named Desire

George William Sturley marvels at a unique interpretation of a well-known play.

A Street Car Named Desire is an ambitious show to stage – especially in Durham where American accents are not common – due to the critically acclaimed film version. Matt Dann, the director, has made a bold move in choosing it and a move that, for me at least, paid off. Thrust Stage ironically had no thrust but an orchestral pit complete with jazz ensemble that set the scene of interwar New Orleans aptly. The set is well thought-out, having inside and outside scenes denoted with lighting changes and an innovative use of an iron fire escape staircase stage right. The set itself is fitting with the time period and style of the play, with basic furniture that is mix-matched and used. Matt Dann’s interpretation includes a thoroughly detailed and again innovative use of props that were utilized uniquely in a way that didn’t evoke the film adaption but rather draws the audience into the world of the play more deeply. Noteworthy are the strong contrasts of sound between Blanche’s actions and Stanley’s that concrete their opposition and differences to one another. That is a compliment to the actors but also the choice of props and set - for example the, cooker/cabinet gives a harsh metallic din whenever Stanley slams a beer on it or otherwise abuses it, creating a soundscape that is completely different to the gentle tinkering of Blanche. There are really too many details of this nature to mention but suffice to say the entire performance was permeated by clever and well thought-out set and staging choices, such as the hanging of the Chinese lantern just low enough for Michael Forde (Stanley) to knock into it and the bottle of beer and plates that are powerfully swept off the table. The list goes on and on.

Throughout the performance, lighting and tech plays a large part in conveying the subtext and mood of the play. Moments worth mentioning are the pathetic fallacy of the brewing storm created with shadows (which are used extensively and effectively many times) to denote the brewing tension in the house. The shadow bars cast onto Blanche’s bed during her exposition of why she cannot love properly, creating a prison that mirrors the metaphorical one that holds Blanche’s emotions. And to my favourite scene (between Blanche and Stanley when Stella is in the hospital,) the climax of the play and a scene dealt with brilliantly. The shadows cast onto the back wall are like the fractured mind of Blanche, cracked and broken. The underlying red lighting that is present in the previous scene increases and suddenly consumes the entire stage as Blanche loses control and picks up the knife. The red is isolated to the bed and as the violence and abuse reaches its chilling peak there is a blackout. These were my favourite moments but the execution of what clearly is a complex vision by the Tech Director Dan Gosselin is impressively realised.
The acting is strong. Grace Cheatle (Blanche Dubois) and Michael Forde (Stanley Kowalski) steal the show with further notable performances from Lucie Crawford (Stella Kowalski,) Mike Clarke (Mitch,) and Steffi Walker (Eunice Hubbel.) Cheatle and Forde have believable American accents and both have very developed characterizations. It’s not easy to walk in Brando’s steps but just as Matt Dann has managed to stay away from directional plagiarism, Forde has managed to make a distinctly unique stab at Stanley. Michael’s craned neck and intensely animalistic mannerisms along with his convincing anger and violence make for several quite chilling silences. When combined with Cheatle’s depiction of increasing fragility with very precise, stately hand gestures devolving into contorted and writhing fingers covering her mouth and facial expressions which frankly frightened me, all combine to make for an entertaining and stimulating production.
Anna Gorska and Amelia Birch (the shows producers) clearly did a good job promoting the show as last night the Assembly Rooms were noticeably busy for a first night. I have very few criticisms of the show, except a few slips in accent from several members of the cast and the music (which was atmospheric and added to the production on the whole) could have come in a little more quietly at times. The production is strong and is well worth going to see - the show is certainly a success on many fronts.
George William Sturley



9 November 2012

The views expressed in the reviews and comments on this page are those of the reviewer, and are not representative of the views of DST or Durham University.
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