By Anna Pycock
Blizzard Theatre Company’s A Streetcar Named Desire demonstrates exactly why it remains a classic piece of drama. Despite being one of the most well-known works of modern literature, this production provides a dynamic and vigorous performance which will make you feel like you’re watching for the very first time no matter how well you know the play.
The crew must be commended for transforming the shiny, spacious new Mount Oswald Hub into a small 1950’s house in New Orleans; the set design was fairly minimal but with enormous effect, alluding to the cramped and messy rooms but without the stage becoming too busy. The new space offered room for experimentation which director Saniya Saraf certainly utilised; I particularly liked how the play poignantly began and ended with the use of the middle aisle through the audience, as well as the use of the floor in front of the stage which allowed scenes to spill out onto the exposed “street”. This atmosphere was honed by clever, thoughtful lighting design by Kiko Keighery, a continuous red light making the divide between the inside and out very clear, as well as the subtleties within the house to match Blanche’s distaste for the harsh light. Taylor Doherty-Walls should also be commended for excellent sound design; the incorporation of music underscoring the general chatter set a lovely soundscape for the opening of the piece, as well as later music chiming in and out to mimic Blanche’s fragmented trauma, giving the audience a forced insight and shared experience of her mental state so that we cannot help but sympathise.
Despite it being only week 2 of the year, it was clear from the seamless performances and well-thought-out choices made by Saraf that this cast and crew had been building on this show for months. The acting nuances never strayed from being naturalistic, yet you could tell that all the actors involved were well familiarised and comfortable with the tone of the production. A stylistic choice I really enjoyed was how effectively props were used, with the rise and fall of characters’ emotions being amplified by various bits of food, drink or other objects occasionally being flung violently across the stage in particularly climactic moments. These additions made the production feel active and volatile, and in my opinion, were well worth the slight awkwardness and length it added to some scene changes to allow for cleaning up.
The actors themselves were outstanding, going beyond what I think many people would expect to see in a student production. Jodie Sale melted into the skittish, insecure Blanche Dubois over the course of the performance, with every element of her voice, movements and facial expressions capturing both the whimsical and deeply troubled sides to the character.
Giorgia Laird’s raw emotions made her a heart-breakingly wonderful Stella, she was able to change mood so quickly but so believably, and her body language was particularly well done, always moving about the stage undoubtedly as Stella. Kit Redding as Stanley alongside her gave a performance that was nothing short of flawless. He was able to adapt to the different energy levels each scene required and had fantastic control over the tone and volume of his voice, making his iconic shouts of “Stella!” all the more effective. Laird and Redding were at their best when together, with their interactions showcasing fantastic character work and a really impressive understanding of intimacy, which remained impressively natural throughout.
The whole cast succeeded at situating the drama, they worked well as a united body of voices and movements, with difficult southern American accents broadly done very well. Ben Johanson, Dominic Liversey and James Murray were a believable gang of Stanley’s gambling buddies, yet they did not dissolve into the backdrop, with their individual character quirks still emerging at points during the group scenes. A special mention has to go to Miriam Templeman as Eunice, truly making the stage time she had hilariously memorable and engaging and providing some very effective comedic relief in what is quite a heavy show.
I must commend the general handling of the sensitive material in the play, not only in the welfare resources signposted in every programme, but also in how smoothly the scenes with physical or sexual violence were choreographed. They achieved the ideal middle ground where the action was clearly polished and well-rehearsed, yet did not sacrifice the roughness that made it feel so believable and abrasive.
Overall, A Streetcar Named Desire was an incredibly professional and well-executed production of a classic play, making it completely worth the trek up to South College to see it (and that’s high praise!).
Image credit: Blizzard Theatre Company