Streetcar! Playhouse! Bodinetz! It all seems like such an obvious, natural fit it’s strange to imagine it hasn’t been done before.
It’s some 30 years since this Tennessee Williams classic has been performed on the Playhouse stage, and with the theatre’s own artistic director on hand to run the show, for anyone familiar with all three, on paper it seemed like a match made in heaven.
And it was. Considering the last in-house production here was the feelgood mania of the rock ‘n’ roll panto, a big slice of melodrama such as A Streetcar Named Desire was a bit of a shock to the system of a theatre scene more used to chorus lines in recent times than full-on domestic drama.
Streetcar tells the tale of Southern belle Blanche DuBois, who turns up at her sister Stella’s dingy New Orleans apartment having fallen on hard times, not banking on her new surroundings — and new brother-in-law — to be quite so down-to-earth.
Gideon Davey’s set was as simple as it needed to be, yet was a vital part of the production, with almost all action taking part inside Stella and Stanley’s flat, or with a quick turn, on the stairwell outside. A lot depended on the lighting of Fergus O’Hare, which set the scene from dark nights to sweltering afternoons, from lighthearted gatherings to trouble brewing.
Although the cast was peppered with familiar local actors, Stephen Fletcher, Alan Stocks and Matthew Flynn among them, all eyes were, undeniably, on that trio of Blanche, Stella and Stanley. Rightfully so.
Leanne Best did a great job as put-upon Stella, caught in the middle between the two people she loves most, and the physicality behind Sam Troughton’s performance as Stanley was as scary and alluring –thilling, as Stella would put it — as could be.
But it was Amanda Drew as Blanche who gave a performance that will remain in the memory for some time to come. Drawing the audience in from the off, as her character unravelled, the intensity of her portrayal was often hard to bear.
Annoyances included the usual problems of wonky American accents, although most bedded in, and the unsubtle scene changes, usually heralded with a blaring soundtrack as stagehands in black came on to move things away. Perhaps some kind of distraction tactic would have come in handy there, although in the end suspension of disbelief won the day.
This production is incredibly watchable, despite a lengthy running time. It wears its heart on its sleeve, boasts a fantastic lead performance from Drew and benefits hugely from Bodinetz’s directorial eye. It seemed Blanche didn’t leave the stage a broken woman, but as one, with luck, who may not have been finished yet.
A Streetcar Named Desire is on at the Playhouse until March 10.
Picture by Stephen Vaughn