Review: A Streetcar Named Desire

Will Spencer 3 May 2013

A Streetcar Named Desire

ADC Theatre, 30th April – 4th May, 7.45pm

Tackling A Streetcar Named Desire, Tennessee Williams’ 1947 masterpiece, is undoubtedly ambitious. The physicality of much of the action of the male characters makes it demanding, particularly that of the male protagonist, Stanley Kowalski. Capturing the mental turmoil experienced by Blanche DuBois, Stanley’s apparently glamorous sister-in-law, provides another challenge. This adaptation, Directed by Jack Gamble, succeeds with aplomb in both these regards.

Tom Russell’s role as Stanley rapidly matures into a commendable display of domineering yet instinctive masculinity. He initially appears a little soft, lost even, but rather than prefiguring an inhibited performance, it makes his emergence as a brutal, oppressive character more powerful. It is this marriage between assertive virility and a fumbling, somewhat bestial instinct that defines his performance, upon which the foundations of the play rely.

Indeed, despite Russell’s comparatively slender physique, there is perhaps something of Marlon Brando’s seminal display in the 1951 film adaptation in his enactment of Stanley. Russell is particularly terrifying when confronting Blanche about the fictitious telegram she claims to have received from a former, wealthy beau, perfectly capturing the chilling mixture of primal drive and human suspicion.

However, Victoria Rigby provides the most consistent, standout performance as Blanche. She exhibits Blanche’s exaggerated veneer of self-assurance upon meeting Stanley’s wife, Stella, her sister. That Blanche’s emotive interaction with Stanley supersedes that between Stanley and Stella says much for the scope of Rigby’s display. The move from initial tension and surprise at discovering the environment in which her sister resides to more complete loss of control manages to be seamless yet shuddering. When Blanche was led away at the play’s denouement, the audience was deeply shaken by the emotional turmoil on display.

The interplay between Rigby and Ellie Nunn as Stella largely succeeds as well. Like Russell, Nunn does not immediately convince. However, the slight absence of feeling when we first see her is ultimately justified as reflecting the utter resignation with which she has accepted her situation. Her rather whimsical reaction to Blanche’s protestations at Stanley’s early violence epitomises the difference between the two sisters as characters. It is not Nunn’s performance that lacks emotion, but her character, conditioned to live in a physical, male-dominated environment without serious complaint.

While Stanley and his male friends appear cut from the same cloth, Mitch is the exception, as Quentin Beroud makes abundantly clear in his performance, so much so that his shy awkwardness almost approaches caricature. However, this is redeemed by his sudden, impressive shift to bewildered rage when he reveals to Blanche what he has heard about her history. Moreover, his consistent sensitivity rightly sets Mitch and Blanche apart as outsiders, unwilling to be stereotypes.

The simplicity of the play’s decor reflects the constraint that pervades the respective lives of Blanche and Stella, though the attention to detail is sufficiently convincing to remind us of the New Orleans location. The interspersing of music is also cleverly used to reflect Blanche’s mental oscillation, in particular.

Overall, this production lacked little, and rarely dragged despite its length. The frequent laughter was probably more a product of the American-style cocktails served during the interval rather than a trivialisation of the play’s subject matter.

Will Spencer