Tennessee Williams’ 1947 play A Streetcar Named Desire is one of those timeless ‘classic’ plays that remains forever relevant as it deals with universal themes, namely with the dark side of human nature: violence, power, passion, loneliness and guilt.
The better the play, the bigger the challenge. Walking a well-known path differently has always been a trial and the rising star Chelsea Walker has embraced it fully when directing this new UK tour, as a co-production between English Touring Theatre, Theatr Clwyd and Nuffield Southampton Theatres.
A Streetcar Named Desire opens with a fragile woman arriving at a desolate New New Orleans apartment. She looks out of place and lost, and this is when the audience gets introduced to Blanche, the main protagonist. Blanche is visiting her only slightly-younger sister Stella. Shortly after the two-sister’s reunion, Blanche breaks down, uncovering an unresolved personal and family history.
Stella, for her part played by Amber James, is confronted with a guilt from the past she left behind. And this is when Stanley played by Patrick Knowles shows up with his provocative manly appearance. In a matter of minutes, Stanley’s raw disposition is shown, and all of their lives begin to unravel.
The set consists of two minimally decorated rooms separated only by a thin partition. The fading state of the house is effective in representing Blanche’s mental decline.
Blanche’s performance is brilliant and overtakes the rest of the show. Her character is wonderfully developed to display human fragility and what happens when one dares to be an outsider within a society; however, the same can’t be said about Stanley, whose complex character hasn’t been worked on fully and his raging outbursts reveal one-dimensionality.
The show is timely in addressing themes about female abuse and misogyny in light of the #metoo global movement. Insanity, violence, loss and love are all heavy topics that penetrate the play in all its might through a story that speaks to a general audience.
One of Blanche’s repeated lines: ‘I don’t want realism, I want magic’ are sure to ring through one’s ears for quite some time after the end. Theatre is this place of magic one enters to both avoid and see reality for what it is. A Streetcar Named Desire is a play about misunderstood madness, about the complexity of family relationships and so much more.
A Streetcar Named Desire runs at Bristol Old Vic until Saturday, April 21. For more info, visit: www.bristololdvic.org.uk/whats-on/a-streetcar-named-desire.
Images: The Other Richard