Tuesday 20th October 2015
A Streetcar Named Desire
our rating: ***
Director: Nikolai Foster
Play write: Tennessee Williams
Running at Curve’s Studio Theatre from 16th October to 7th November 2015.
Trevor Locke reports
The audience in The Studio tonight was delighted with this production and many stood to give their ovation at the end of a performance that clearly had people captivated.
In the leading roles at tonight’s show were Charlie Brooks (as Blanche Dubois), Stewart Clarke (as Stanley Kowalski) and Dakota Blue Richard (as Stella Kowalski. )
Patrick Knowles (as Harold Mitchell), Sandy Foster (as Eunice Hubbel) and Natasha Magigi (as Neighbour & nurse) provided supporting roles among others.
One of the great plays of the twentieth century, this was a not-to-be-missed evening. A production by Curve, this was a nail-biting and gripping drama that brought to life the colour and atmosphere of America’s south and the fragility of personal experience.
Tennessee William’s play of 1947 has been a phenomenal success on stages all over the world and became a smash hit on the cinema screen when Marlon Brando and Vivien Leigh starred in the the 1951 film version.
Those of us who have seen the film version will be forgiven for being influenced by its sensational acting. As is often the case, a film version with leading stars, sets the bar and it is difficult to judge other productions because we always think back to what we have seen before.
The play deals with mental breakdown and we are reminded of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, produced at Curve in 2011.
Blanche Dubois (Charlie Brooks) is one of those Marmite characters which you feel sympathy for one moment and pity the next. Equally, the rough and violent character of Stanley Kowalski (Stewart Clarke) can be both horrible and charming. Blanche appears pretentious, living in an imaginary world of her own, flirtatious and scheming, fragile and manipulative but you cannot but be sympathetic to her plight. Life had dealt her some unenviable cards and she has had to survive by her wits. In the play she is at the end of the road and has run out of options.
The scene is set in the French Quarter of New Orleans, the haunt of gamblers, streetwalkers and poor people and the ambience is evoked by the sounds of jazz music which is heard both at the opening of the show and at various points later, together with the passing of trams and the deafening roarer of trains passing by the flat where the Kowalskis live. Blanche is a bag of nerves but portrays herself as a woman who has had a faded past, brought up in a white house with columns, among the Southern aristocracy, her world of finery and delicate etiquette had been lost. She arrives at the Kowalski home because she has nowhere else to go; her world has vanished and she takes to the bottle as tensions mount between her and the brutal Stanley. Stewart Clarke ably enacts the violence of the rough Polish man (who Blanche refers to as a ‘Polak’ until she is roundly ticked off for this by Stanley), banging loudly on the table and smashing the crockery and flying into drunken rages. He also well portrays the smouldering sexuality of his masculine character, ripping off his shirt right from the start of the play to reveal his muscly torso. The whole play is shot through with sexual tension and the actors capture this effortlessly in their roles.
The good points of this production: the incidental music composed by David Shrubsole, the evocative set design of Michael Taylor, the real water rain storm at the end of the play (don’t sit on the front row if you prefer not to home wet), Nikolai Foster’s attention to detail in directing the action and the fast that the pace is maintained throughout the two acts so that its flies by quickly.
Bad points. This was a good production and I, for one, would not have missed it. I am, however, less than convinced by the casting of Charlie Brooks as Blanche; she somehow did not seem to fit the part that well and I thought she was prone to over-acting at times.
Most of the cast managed their Southern accents well enough, thanks to Tim Charrington’s dialect coaching. Stewart Clarke’s role as Stanley was good, though there were times when it failed to reach the mark and was a triumph of style over content. The scene where Blanche is raped (a dramatic highlight) is treated very coyly in this production, resulting in a disappointing under-statement.
Balancing things out, it was nevertheless a highly charged production that captured the main elements of what we would expect from this challenging and demanding drama. It is well worth seeing and one of those plays that will stand out in the annals of Leicester’s arts highlights.