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A Streetcar Named Desire

"I don't tell truth, I tell what ought to be truth." — Blanche
A Streetcar Named Desire
Kelly Gough as Blanche and Amber James as Stella (Photo: The Other Richard)
A Streetcar Named Desire is on the A level examination syllabus for candidates aged 17 to 18. This is an example of a question, "Examine the view that A Streetcar Named Desire fails because the relationship between Stella and Stanley is 'inconceivable'?" Interesting question and especially when applied to Chelsea Walker's production in this year of "Me Too" examining sexual abuse of women by men. Is Stella (Amber James) and Stanley (Patrick Knowles)'s relationship inconceivable?

Stanley Kowalski has no redeeming features. He stands on the furniture, spits out food, tips over the table, and verbally and physically assaults Stella. This means instead of feeling that Blanche (Kelly Gough) is being rude when she describes him as an ape, we tend to agree. This description is so close to the image of Eugene O'Neill's eponymous stoker in the 1922 The Hairy Ape, as perceived by a refined girl. However Blanche is a guest in Stanley's home and has been brought up to behave better. But the early behaviour we see from Stanley confirms the narcissism and uncouthness of this man. Later of course the drunken rape is something that is criminal.

Streetcar is a play of two halves. In the first half, Blanche is loud, arrogant, selfish, inconsiderate and openly flirts with Stanley, as well as Mitch (Dexter Flanders). She is unpleasant to her own sister. She arrives in Stella's modest apartment in the French Quarter of New Orleans ready to criticise and illustrating that beggars can be choosers. In the second half she is someone for whom we can feel a modicum of sympathy.

Here the apartment block has the other residents living on the roof of, and hanging over, the simple two room box set. The bedroom is separated from the living room by only a strip blind. The key we are given as to why Stella stays with Stanley is in the great sex that they enjoy together and the thrill of a sexual making up after a quarrel.

Of course, anyone sleeping in the living room would be in no doubt when the Kowalskis are having intercourse. Stella says, "There are things that happen between a man and a woman in the dark — that sort of make everything seem — unimportant." We can see why Blanche's interminable long baths would be annoying for Stanley.

In the programme, the director talks about Tennessee Williams's "rage at a community's complicity in a stream of violence towards its women." What we do know about Tennessee Williams is that he was gay and that his sister was distressingly carted off to an asylum, as Blanche is, in the final act. I do think that with the doubling of roles, the designer could have given the doctor and nurse who take Blanche away white coats to differentiate them, him from a poker player, and her from the neighbourhood woman. Blondie's "Heart of Glass" is played several times. A disco ball replaces the Chinese paper lantern. I didn't feel the oppressive heat and humidity of New Orleans in this production.

Of the performances, Kelly Gough as Blanche holds down a difficult part with conviction and I particularly liked Amber James's Stella. As I have said Patrick Knowles's Stanley lacks subtlety but it is a legitimate interpretation. Dexter Flanders is excellent as the sympathetic Mitch. The play is running at an advertised Two Hours 40 minutes with one interval but there have obviously been some cuts and I think Eunice (Maria Louis)'s part has suffered. With colour blind casting, Mitch is played by a black man Dexter Flanders, but hey this is meant to be the twenty first century! I would like to see an all black Streetcar as they have performed in America.

The night I saw this touring play from English Touring Theatre at the Arts Theatre in Cambridge, a large school party were seeing the play for the first time. Having already studied the text they knew what to expect and in the interval hearing their animated discussion was a heartwarming experience.

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A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams
Directed by Chelsea Walker
Starring: Kelly Gough, Amber James, Patrick Knowles, Dexter Flanders
With: Nicole Agada, Will Bliss, Joe Manjon, Maria Louis
Design: Georgia Lowe
Composer: Nubya Garcia
Sound Design: Shelley Maxwell
Lighting Design: Lee Curran
An English Touring Theatre, Theatr Clwyd, and Nuffield Southampton Theatres Production
Running time: Two hours 40 minutes with an interval
Booking 8th to 12th May Oxford Playhouse, 01865 305305
Booking15th May to 2nd June Anthony Hopkins Theatre, Theatr Clywd, Mold, 01352 701521
Booking 5th to 16th June Nuffield Theatre, Southampton 023 8067 1771
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 3rd May 2018 performance at the Arts Theatre, 6 Ste Edward's Passage, Cambridge CB2 3PJ (Rail: Cambridge)
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A Streetcar Named Desire