Wednesday, October 12, 2011

A Streetcar Named Desire - a Review

Most people will know Tennessee Williams’ play “A Streetcar Named Desire” from the film starring Marlon Brando as the sexually overpowering Stanley Kowalski.  But Sasha Paul’s production for Dramatic Productions at Poole Lighthouse Studio shifts the audience’s sympathies back to that of his sister-in-law, the delusional, mentally fragile Blance Dubois.  In this production Kowalski is played with a grown up, intelligent intensity by Leigh Hayward that distances him admirably from the brutish Brando image and, while there is yet much chemistry to be explored between him and Blanche, last night there was enough simmering tension to make this relationship begin to pop and spin.  The setting of the piece, the lower working class area of New Orleans adds to the heat and tension and the whole cast works hard to underline this atmosphere of claustrophobic intensity particularly the ebullient Tara Dominick as Eunice, Celeste Engel as Missy and the members of Stanley’s poker school:Jamie Hill, Sean Pogmore and Steve McCarten who plays the disappointed Mitch with an effective puzzlement .  

But at the heart of the play is the character of Blanche. Nicole Faraday portrays her to aching effect with a desperation that shows the lines under the makeup of the woman fast approaching middle age and with a hinterland of failed marriage and a long trail of affairs. This part is one of the great challenges for an actress in portraying a woman who is in such denial about her past that we in the audience cannot decide whether she is an accomplished liar or completely mad and Nicole drags us through that experience with consummate skill. The final scene in which she is led off to an asylum is chillingly gripping.  The other protagonist is Blanche’s sister and Stanley’s wife Stella played here with spirit by Emma Stephens.  This is another challenging role as Stella has to appear timid and supportive whilst providing enough reality and power to balance the fizzing emotions of the rest of the characters.  Her wretchedness at the denouement is heartbreaking.  

The cast took a little while to get going and, initially, some of the vocal production was not crisp enough in the unforgiving acoustic of the Studio but once it was underway this production had the power to shock.  Sasha has assembled a hard working and effective ensemble including stalwarts Frank Holden and Julia Savill delivering fine cameos as the Doctor and Nurse who come to lead Blanche away and Peter Fellows as the Young Collector.  In these straitened times we will see fewer of the classics that require this size cast and Dramatic Productions must be congratulated for tackling this big play head on.

One thing we should all do is to urge the Lighthouse management to launch an appeal for a refurbishment of the studio.  The ghastly, noisy bleachers are uncomfortable and disturbing to the action, the echoing wooden stage floor is not suitable for professional plays.  And we all know the back stage is simply not good enough.  

From Wednesday 12th October  to Saturday 15th at 7.30 with matinees on Thursday and Saturday at 2.30.

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