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A Streetcar Named Desire
Published on Wednesday, 09 May 2012

4 stars

New Venture Theatre (venue website)
5, 8-12, 15-19 May, 7:45pm-10:30pm; 6, 13 May, 2:30pm-5:00pm
Reviewed by Catherine Meek

 Suitable for age 15+ only.

Hats off to NVT; this is surely, as near as dammit, the evocation of the world of inner and outer conflicts which Tennessee Williams envisaged for Streetcar.  It’s produced with dedication to make the theatrical experience a holistic one: tickets resemble the old-fashioned stubs which were once were handed out on trams, and the programme is a buff-coloured A6 “Official Time Table” for the New Orleans trolley bus and streetcar services, complete with actors’ profiles reproduced as ID cards.

We arrive, as though we’ve just stepped off the streetcar, in a working class street corner of Elysian Fields, New Orleans. We wend our way through bustling locals to our seats, arranged scarcely separate from the set, which occupies the whole of the floor space.

Blanche is also newly arrived by streetcar, from the family homestead Belle Reve, lost to her and the family now. Yet all is not what it seems. For all her delicacy, white gloves and fur collars, Blanche is an alcoholic and a seducer, with shameful secrets she hides even from herself. Tennessee Williams is known for complex characters, often based on his own experience of inner turmoil.

However ambitious the production, there will be a whiff of familiarity to anyone who knows this play. With Marlon Brando and Vivien Leigh famously playing the lead roles when it first opened in New York, and then in London in the late 1940s, it’s nigh-on impossible to view this one with fresh eyes. Still, my own absorption was easily maintained, even through the necessary interruption of the interval.

Lauren Varnfield plays Blanche. In the main, there’s not a sniff of Varnfield-acting-Blanche: she is Blanche, and captures the fussy, affected nervous disposition written for her. But at times, and crucially at the beginning, her voice was regrettably too quiet and whole sentences were lost to our ears.

Where Blanche is enthralling, our sympathies lie with Stanley, very well played by Emmett Friel. He is as rough as she is genteel. The sexual tension between Blanche and Stanley, though visible, is not as prickly as the play requires, and this does detract from the climax of her falling prey to him towards the end. Meanwhile, Stella, played by Arabella Gibbins, confidently personifies the human torment of being torn apart by two equally controlling yet fragile characters.

Overall, it’s a sterling production which I highly recommend. They set the bar very high, and while the first night suffered some minor issues, I’m confident they’ll be dealt with by now.

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These are archived reviews of shows from Brighton 2012.  We keep our archives online as a courtesy to performers, and for readers who'd like to research previous years' reviews.