Staging a play as iconic as A Streetcar Named Desire is certainly a tall order, but this production, directed by Harry Lukakis and Anna Seccombe, more than did justice to Williams’ artful and provocative script. For those who, like me, were unfamiliar with the play, the script follows the tale of southern belle Blanche Dubois (Mary Higgins), who arrives, impecunious and desperate, to stay with her pregnant sister Stella (Madeleine Walker) and brother-in-law in their shabby two-room New Orleans apartment. Irrevocably wedded to her airs and graces, her love for high fashion, and obsessed with her youth and cleanliness, Blanche immediately brings herself into conflict with the modest lifestyle of her sister and, in particular, with her ‘brutish’ husband Stanley (Jason Imlach) whom she describes as ‘downright bestial’ in one of her many moments of frustration.
This play deals with some very heavy themes, all of which the actors handled with great sensitivity. The first shocking experience for the audience is when Stanley hits his wife in front of their friends in a moment of fury that has been gestating for several tense minutes. Imlach’s portrayal of the domestic bully is convincing to the point of discomfort – we can hardly bare to feel his antagonism as he paces the room knocking objects about, winding himself up to eruptions of rage. Walker plays a long-suffering, enduring wife whose patience disguises her vulnerability with devastating truthfulness, and it is a very touching moment when she accepts her abusive husband back into her arms later that night, for reasons the audience cannot fail to sympathise with. Higgins is captivating as Blanche, capturing her twitchiness and vanity, but also, on a deeper level, her self-loathing and earnest desire for her sister to lead the kind of life she imagines would make someone truly happy. Although the character is in many ways, insufferable, there is no doubt the audience feels with her when she explains how she had had to resort to prostitution, or how her young husband had committed suicide after she had expressed revulsion at his homosexuality. The whole play is imbued with alcohol and the attendant sense of chaos and defeatism, and Higgins sensitively portrays an emotionally fragile woman’s descent into alcoholism.
This is an extremely elegant production – each body onstage is carefully directed, particularly for the final tragic tableau as Blanche resigns herself to her fate, Mitch slumped devastated in his chair. I particularly liked the way the staging emphasised the sense of masculine and feminine spaces – the boisterous male poker room on the left juxtaposing the female space, which Blanche flits and Stella floats around, on the right. The props were consistent with the subtle aesthetic, and I also really liked the use of music throughout to plant us firmly in the 1940s New Orleans culture. There are some fabulous performances of the smaller roles – like the comedic salesman (James Patrick Vigni), the fiery Eunice (Chloe Wall) and her husband (Selali Fiamanya), his friends (Stas Butler, Adham Smart) and the two who enacted Blanche’s memory scenes (Rosa Garland and Gaetano Iannetta). This is a very cohesive cast, and a fluid, professional production which I urge everyone to go along and see.