A Streetcar Named Desire

Jessica Jennings 30 October 2009

Jessica Jennings hops aboard this American classic and asks if it’s worth the ride

ADC Theatre Mainshow- 7.30pm Tues 27th-Sat 31st October


Putting A Streetcar Named Desire, Tennessee Williams’ most famous play, onto the ADC stage is an ambition that should be commended. Executing a play that has recently undergone an incredibly successful West End revival is a lot of pressure, and after an almost entirely unintelligible opening scene, the doubts set in about how well a Cambridge team can address the enormity of this prize-winning 1940s American play without getting lost in the little production issues of amateur dramatics.

Some of the accents get a little better, but others remain faulty, which is irritating at best. The least convincing accent comes from Stella, which is especially confusing as the actress herself comes from Virginia. It would have been nice to believe that her oscillating inflections represented the tensions between her old-time American Dream childhood and the industrial urban reality of her adulthood, particularly at points of heightened emotion. But when by the second half she seems to have given up entirely and gone for a melange of any American-British intonation, this illusion is thoroughly shattered.

This is a petty road to go down, however, especially as there are quite a few basic things to criticise, like the sound effects, which were clumsy and annoying. Towards the end of the first half, in Blanche’s very well delivered speech, it was frustrating to have some gratuitous, jarring music not really keeping time with the climax of Blanche’s emotional admissions. To then have every scene followed by ten, maybe fifteen, seconds of complete silence while the actors run to their next cue adds to the feeling that the people in charge of the sound effects don’t really understand what they’re for.

The lighting, whilst sufficient, was boring, which was surprising given the countless mentions of light within the play. It also typified on stage a tendency towards the static, which led the production at times to become dull, which is a surprising shame when dealing with a play which is characteristically jam-packed with tensions. In some ways, though, it did heighten the claustrophobic relationships that Stella and Stanley develop with Blanche and also made her come across as increasingly suffocating.

One of the main accomplishments of the production was the portrayal of Blanche as the deluded and beautiful wreck that she is in the play. Helen Parker (Blanche) achieves the fascinating self-obsession with dazzling effect, and, although occasionally seeming a little detached, generally pulls off a really commendable performance.

Without a doubt, however, the real star of the show was Paul Syers playing Stanley. His explosive anger is compelling, scary even, particularly in the second half of the play. He goes against the trend in the performances to falter at extremity, and whereas other characters laugh or cry unconvincingly, his outbursts become immense climaxes and a highlight of the production.

He also handles slip-ups with ease, even though they must have been distracting to him, like beginning to choke, being unable to unlock the suitcase and a spectacular failure to open a beer bottle without explosion, keeping his cool whilst still portraying the animalistic passions of Stanley Kowalski.

It is hard to see a Tennessee Williams play and not enjoy it. So whilst this isn’t the best rendition, it is worth seeing on the basis that it is a fantastic play.

On top of that, there are moments of really well-delivered humour, as well as the couple of unexpectedly memorable performances from Stanley and Blanche, which are worth the time.

Jessica Jennings