Tennessee Williams’ drama, while deceptively simple, is notoriously difficult to stage. Or, rather, notoriously difficult to stage well. For a Williams’ play is, above all, a balancing act. To stay true to the playwright’s vision, each production must be rooted in human emotion but elevated by glamour, passion and a dose of fantasy. It is all too easy for a director to get swept away by the poetics or to land, with a dull thud, in the land of stultifying realism. Perhaps in its attempts to reconcile these disparate parts, Rapture Theatre’s production of A Streetcar Named Desire ends up falling short.
Williams’ theatre, at is best, is known for its heady sensuality and slow theatrical build. Here, however, a fraught, near hysterical, tone is established and carried throughout the production, before veering off the edge in an explosive ending. The drama does not feel controlled and seems to be spilling over haphazardly, with much superfluous crashing and thrashing about on stage. While this does, in its way, hold the audience’s attention, the melodramatic atmosphere clashes with the more serious subject matter. The dominant tone, which would better belong to a pantomime, does not alter swiftly enough to create the sober atmosphere required to address the issues of sexual abuse and domestic violence raised by Streetcar.
The Southern accents — adopted, no doubt, in the name of realism — prove a struggle for the cast, faltering intermittently. At moments of dramatic tension, the actors’ strained voices are unable to modulate to a softer tone under the weight of the affected Mississippi twang, which acts as a theatrical death mask, beneath which their true dramatic potential suffocates. A state of mourning should also be announced for Stanley and Stella’s sexual chemistry which, despite some frantic attempts at resuscitation, seems to have perished some time in pre-production. As Stella and Stanley’s connection is not convincingly articulated, the interior logic of the play is compromised and Stella’s final actions appear chillingly callous.
Despite still bearing the name A Streetcar Named Desire, Rapture Theatre have stripped the work of all sensuality, focussing their efforts on depicting a bleak vision of 1950s’ misogyny whilst regurgitating a gendered reading of Blanche’s ‘breakdown’ which repeats historical narratives of female mental infirmity. As opposed to delivering a classic play with the promised ‘twenty-first century edge’, Rapture Theatre’s heavy-handed adaptation dims the work’s insight into the power of desire as a driving force of human nature. Not all is lost, however, as the production is bolstered by Gina Isaac’s competent performance as Blanche. In the supporting cast, Kazeem Tosin Amore and Michelle Chantelle Hopewell added a touch of relief and charm to an otherwise claustrophobic rendition of the classic play.
Williams’ script is cheaply escalated to fever pitch, in a production which fails to deliver on the original text’s nuance and emotional depth.
A Streetcar Named Desire runs until 7th October at Edinburgh’s King’s Theatre.