"I don't want realism. I want magic!"
A Streetcar Named Desire is often regarded as one of the greatest dramas of the 20th century, and is considered by many to be one of Tennessee Williams' finest plays. Set in the late 1940s in 'Nawlins' it opened on Broadway in 1947 and two years later was staged in London under the direction of Laurence Olivier. A film adaptation in 1951 starring Vivien Leigh and Marlon Brando won a record four Academy Awards and, so popular is the story, it has also been adapted for opera and ballet.
This was my first visit to the Grange Playhouse, a warm welcome and strong feeling of pride amongst the supporters. The Grange, an award-winning little theatre seating just over 100 and established in 1951, is now heading into its 65th season. The doors open to the intimiate setting and the audience is greeted by the velvet sound of a solo saxophonist (Steven Blower), setting the mood for this well-loved, three act play.
Directed and designed by Stephen Ralph, the story, in short, centres around Blanche DuBois (Michelle Jennings), her younger sister Stella Kowalski (Rachel Holmes) and brother-in-law Stanley Kowalski (Brett Dewsbury). Blanche, a former English teacher suffering with her nerves has lost the family home in unclear circumstances. She finds herself penniless with nowhere to go so travels from Mississippi to New Orleans to live with Stella and Stanley, the final leg of her journey being aboard a streetcar named Desire.
It’s a play that’s burdened with both class and sexual issues; the sisters have both 'come down' in the world, Stella by her choice of husband, Stanley, and Blanche with her alcoholism, nymphomania and generally dramatic and eccentric behaviour. Working class, rough and ready Stanley takes an instant dislike to Blanche, and sets out to uncover the truth of her sordid past. The support from the kindly upstairs neighbour, Eunice (Julie Motton) is shown in the comforting of Stella in her humiliations at the hands of Stanley, a man who frequently beats her but fuels her desires for him. Genuine good guy Mitch (Sam Evans) shares his emotions with Blanche and falls for her, drawn in by her cunning frailty, only to turn on her when he finally learns the truth from Stanley, who seems determined to destroy anything that is left of Blanche.
Blanche's attempts to maintain her fantasy and to ignore the realities of her life surely make her one of the best tragic figures in theatre. With frantic urgency she is certainly guilty but also inspires guilt in those around her, eventually cracking up as she declares she has 'become dependent only on the kindness of strangers', leaving the audience pitying all of the characters in the play, for whom there is no possible redemption.
I was thrilled to witness some splendid performances from this clearly experienced cast. Michelle Jennings' portrayal of Blanche is superb, unfaltering throughout, pulling the audience through a plethora of emotions I was glued to her every move - her gestures, voice and movements were mesmerising. Rachel Holmes executes Stella perfectly, as a gentle, younger sister wishing to help but understanding her place in the marriage at the upper hand of her husband, played with strength and conviction by Brett Dewsbury, whose depiction of Stanley perfectly demonstrates absolutely no remorse or forgiveness for Blanche. Sam Evans' portrait of 'Mitch' Mitchell is something great to witness, as he changes from needy to angry staying perfectly within the confines of Mitch's personality and retaining that important, contrasting character. Eunice Hubbel is played excellently by Julie Motton who at times appears to be the only unaffected person in the plot, alongside her husband Steve Hubbel played equally as well by Ray Lawrence who brings some occasional and welcome humour into the story.
Strong acting support from Rod Bissett, Carolyne Hurley, Dale Roberts and Nicola Dolphin-Brown completes the 11-strong cast, directed with vision by the talented Stephen Ralph.
The choreography of the violence was carried out subtly and poetically, without any offence to the viewer. Very well lit with some well chosen musical interludes and underscores and suitably costumed throughout, it's a play for serious theatre-goers and lovers of classics. And remember: a shot never does a coke any harm....!
Runs to 22 April. Contains adult themes.
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