A Streetcar Named Desire
Staging an American classic like Tennessee Williams' 'A Streetcar Named Desire' is a bold move for any theatre company. It's a heavyweight play, regarded by many as one of the most influential of the twentieth century. The latest Lace Market Theatre production, directed by Wayne Parkin, rattles along powerfully and rises to the challenge with convincing central performances.
The curious title of this play comes from Desire, a street in New Orleans. The tram bearing the street's name used to rumble past Williams' tiny French Quarter apartment several times a day; he is said to have drawn inspiration from its clanging bell. That the streetcar has been preserved as a historic and literary monument is testament to the cultural significance of this play.
Set in boisterous 1940s New Orleans, this Pulitzer prize winning domestic drama follows fading southern belle Blanche Dubois (Danielle Amie Easter) as she arrives to stay with her sister, Stella Kowalski (Alex Wrampling). Blanche's delusions of grandeur soon bring her into conflict with Stella's crude, brutish husband Stanley (Kelvin Coleman). The play remains a shocking study of sexual frustration and violence as Stanley brutally destroys Blanche's fantasies of refinement.
Danielle Amie Easter's vulnerable and beautifully awkward Blanche had a breathy southern accent full of unspoken pain, at her most affecting when engaged in loaded flirtations with both Stanley and Mitch (Jak Truswell nicely capturing the shy embarrassment of this 'love interest' character who lives with his mother). The complexities of family relationships sit at the heart of this play, as in so much of Williams' work, and there was powerful stage chemistry between the sisters, Alex Wrampling turning in a nuanced and emotionally powerful performance as Stella. The wordless scene in which she returns to her abusive husband following a beating was full of pathos. MarlonBrando's iconic performance in the 1951 film looms large over any production of this play. Kevin Coleman made the role of Stanley Kowalski his own, presenting us with less overt rage and more quiet menace as he prowled the stage like a caged animal.
The set design (Mark James and Philip Makin) effectively evoked the claustrophobia and heat of a run-down New Orleans tenement building apartment. The two rooms (divided only by a curtain) in which the action of the play unfolded were worn, battered and damaged, like the characters who inhabited it.
Ultimately, this is a play which focuses on language and character over plot, with Williams exploring complex and difficult themes of violence, identity, insanity, love, sex and gender. It made for an intense and stimulating evening of theatre.
'A Streetcar Named Desire' is running at the Lace Market Theatre in Nottingham until 2nd February.