To students studying ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ for their A levels, it is quite possibly just another piece of work to be read, dissected, and memorised. It is something that needs to be done for a looming exam and forgotten thereafter. There are works that I once studied for that very same reason, works that meant little at the time, but which I have learned to love and revisit.
Whether or not you can love ‘Streetcar’ is open to debate. It is intense, in places uncomfortable, and despite being seventy years old, is timeless in so many ways.
The first thing that strikes you are you enter the theatre is the set. By protruding into the auditorium, it emphasises the size of Stella & Stanley’s tiny two room apartment. The characters draped on its roof in the Louisiana heat was a clever mood setting device, as the audience took their sears. Later, it is the sparse walls that came into play, as the lighting provided us with subtle and sinister shadow puppetry to enhance the dialogue. Trust me, once you spot it you won’t be able to take your eyes off it.
This play is all about Blanche DuBois, brilliantly portrayed by Kelly Gough, and the rest of the cast mere bit players to Blanche’s self-obsessed ramblings born of her aspirations of superiority, in both her social stature and her fading looks.
The lives of Stella (Amber James) and Stanley (Patrick Knowles) are not perfect. He is a factory worker, plays cards and bowls with his mates. She is his lover, his wife and soon to be mother of his child. She stays home and cleans the house – quite literally Amber cleans the set, which towards the end of the first half is a complete mess, not unlike Blanche’s life. As her character develops, we discover that compared to Blanche, her younger sister Stella has it all.
As her life falls apart, her lies get uncovered, Blanche gradually drinks more, becomes less and less stable until she is raped by her brother-in-law and her world literally falls apart. Soaked to the skin, mascara running, dress akimbo Kelly Gough exits stage right to one of the most famous lines in theatre and Blanche is no more.
I was amused by the disco glitter ball scene which had me thinking, ‘What if Tennessee Williams met Madonna’? However, that could be a play in itself. I was glad too, that our seats weren’t in the front row as the watermelon pips flew!
A classic play, well delivered and presented.