Saturday, May 11, 2019

A Streetcar Named Desire – dark, memorable and quite exhausting (in a good way) – Lyric Theatre until 8 June

Half an hour out of the Lyric Theatre after the marathon performance of Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire and my head is still thinking out loud with a New Orleans drawl: a testament to the cast’s consistent delivery throughout the three hour play.

If like me you opted for Maths and Sciences after GCSE, then you may have missed out on studying this perennial A-level English set work. So it’s a fresh story unfolding on the stage as Blanche travels from Laurel, Mississippi to stay with her sister Stella, married to Stanley, stepping down off the streetcar into a depressed district far from her ideal environs.

Aoibhéann McCann brilliantly portrays the complexity of Blanche: anxious and perhaps traumatised, sensual and fond of fine things, so deceitful that her truthful revelations barely impact, and one minute chaste, the next throwing herself at the first paperboy that passes. There’s a strength of character about McCann that anchors the whole play and allows the audience to suspend their doubts and instead hope that Blanche can pull through.

In the triangle created between Stella, Stanley and Blanche, it is Meghan Tyler playing Stella who fires out the witty quips that disguise the obvious violent regime she endures living with her brutish husband. Tyler conveys well the tug of war of loyalties between her heavy-handed husband and somewhat-wayward sister and never plays second fiddle to the Stanley–Blanche axis of angst.

It’s hard to have any sympathy for Stanley, played by Mark Huberman. Emma Jordan’s direction keeps his moments of physical and sexual violence to an absolute minimum, moving them off stage, or quickly blanketing the stage in darkness. While it’s kinder to the audience, the brevity and silence do somewhat diminish the devastating impact of these actions.

The play takes place in yet another magnificent Ciaran Bagnall set, with a feeling of height and depth, and warm rays of golden sun dramatically cast across the side-lit stage. The multi-level ground floor apartment space sits under a walkway to the upstairs apartment occupied by Eunice (Abigail McGibbon) and Steve (Sean Kearns), whose own domestic situation mirrors Stella and Stanley down below. There’s a cruel irony that Stella is trapped in a house, whose set has no doors or walls.

Carl Kennedy’s score is muted yet moody, peppered with evocative songs that provide moments of emotional relief before the cast ratchet up the tension once more.

Despite its lengthy run time and Blanche’s verbose dialogue, Williams’ play is tightly constructed, investigates the abuse of power and gender inequalities, while not copping out of its devastatingly hopeless and unjust conclusion as Stanley remorselessly completes the destruction of his sister-in-law who is once again forced into the reliance on “the kindness of strangers”.

In this well-deserved revival, the acting, direction, set, sound and lights come together with the classic script to create a dark, memorable, and quite exhausting piece of theatre that unsettles and disturbs. A Streetcar Named Desire plays in the Lyric Theatre until Saturday 8 June.

Photo credit: Johnny Frazer

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