Presented by Next Stage Theatre Company
Tennessee Williams’ masterpiece set in the jazz-soaked streets of New Orleans is a powerful and iconic portrayal of love, lust and loneliness.
The fragile Blanche comes to stay with her sister Stella and husband Stanley. Amazed at their frugal lifestyle and Stella's dependence on her chauvinistic husband, Blanche is seemingly unaware of the unsettling affect her presence has upon the couple.
Drawn like a moth to a flame Blanche is both attracted and repelled by Stanley. She watches as he and his friends play poker during the hot New Orleans nights, and Stella grows big with Stanley's child. But, in a city of winners and losers, it is Blanche who ultimately pays the highest stake of all.
Since its inception in 1994 Next Stage Theatre Company has achieved an enviable reputation for its interpretations of Tennessee Williams’ works. On this, the company’s 12th visit, Next Stage is delighted to bring A Streetcar Named Desire to The Minack stage. It will be the first time that this iconic American masterpiece – heralded as one of the “greatest plays of the twentieth century” – has been produced at The Minack.
Review by Rebecca Beard - Sardines Magazine
A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams
performed by Next Stage Theatre Company
at The Mission Theatre, Bath 4/7/23
A request to review the definitive play by one of America's holy trinity of playwrights was not to be resisted, and I was not disappointed. On entering the auditorium, we were instantly transported to New Orleans. A zoned set was dressed in all the period details to evoke the environs of a tiny apartment in the French Quarter, including The Four Deuces bar, a glimmer of light in the post-war drabness. We could almost hear the Mississippi steam boats.
Costumes and props were spot-on, as were the lighting and sound effects which subtly and cleverly drew out the moods and themes. Scene segued seamlessly into scene, flowing like bourbon, with the excellent use of supporting cast members who didn't waste a moment of stage time bringing their talents to create an authentic atmosphere. Which brings me neatly onto the ace in the pack; the live band. So much better than recorded music, this lifted the production to another level and established the cultural milieu to perfection.
Isolation, desire, death, greed, loss, lust; the themes of this play have been explored by writers better qualified than I and were all explored through the performances. As Blanche breezed in, we sensed the old-world order of class and money clashing with the new societal structure. The actors had clearly spent time developing their characters in all their glorious ambiguity and contradiction, portraying the messiness of the human condition. It was at times difficult to watch, especially when the spectre of male violence raised its ugly head, and there were no punches pulled when that happened.
There were superb moments from everyone throughout; Blanche's vulnerability, Stella's pragmatism and Stanley's callousness to name but a few. Steve and Eunice mirrored the ways in which the uses and abuses in the complicated relationships between men and women play out. Mitch's rejection of Blanche was heartbreaking, leading us inevitably into the play's darkest and most brutal moment. The chemistry between the main players was palpable and the final scene was full of raw emotion as, through Blanche and Stella, we were confronted with the consequences of our decisions. When we cannot face reality, all we are left with are the lies we tell ourselves.
What a production; hotter than a tamale, cooler than a smoky basement jazz club. The working title of this play was The Poker Night, and in her cast and crew Ann was dealt a winning hand which she played to perfection.
Review by Jenni Balow
A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE
BY TENNESSEE WILLIAMS
NEXT STAGE THEATRE COMPANY
AT THE MINACK.
Desperate anxiety, insecurity and frustration creates an almost touchable tension in the heat of a cramped New Orleans apartment where there is not a drop of Southern comfort, despite the liquor that fuels the lives of its unhappy occupants.
Small wonder that this searing drama had never been performed at the Minack before the brave decision by director and set designer Ann Ellison and the Next Stage Theatre Company from Bath, to put on this close to three hour long production in the open air.
They were rewarded by fair weather for the opening night, missing the ravages of Storm Antoni by a matter of hours.
And their audience was instantly engaged by the stage presence of Hayley Fitton-Cook playing the nervy, neurotic, self-absorbed Blanche DuBois, who makes an entrance dressed immaculately in cream silk, contrasting with the scruffiness of the big city apartment, the scream of the streetcar brakes, and the dubious characters in the adjoining jazz bar.
She's so prim and proper in her little-girl white gloves, so determinedly classy, with a sexy Southern belle drawl, but she is constantly checking her make-up in a mirror - is she also looking for the cracks in her character and past, that will surely emerge?
It might be a role made in heaven, but it demands so much of its actor, who rarely leaves the stage, and must run through every emotion, from joy to the utter despondency of her fragile mental health.
Hayley manages it with an impressive stamina and sureness that matches the mood of this production. It simmers. The actions speak for themselves.
Tennessee Williams wrote this masterpiece in 1947, and it later became one of the most acclaimed films in history, with the then virtually unknown Marlon Brando starring alongside Vivien Leigh.
The latest West End revival of the play starred Paul Mescal, playing the angry Stanley, husband of Blanche's sister Stella. He has one or two shortcomings involving late night drinking and poker. Nevertheless, the two have rubbed along fairly well, until "visiting royalty" creates a taught relationship triangle.
In this production, Mayur Bhatt might be playing a brute, but his sensitivity between the violent outbursts is touching, and Perrine Maillot, very convincing as the long-suffering Stella, adds much-needed emotional balance to the incendiary household.
The atmosphere might be heavy, but Kes Joffe as a charity collector who finds himself being seduced by a much-older woman, gives a delightfully diffident performance to make us smile.
He also steps into the 1940s Four Deuces bar to join the musicians, pianist Christine Anderson, guitarist and vocalist Martin Allsop and first-timer and singer Tiana James, who quicken the increasingly brooding atmosphere with the jazz and blues standards that made the French Quarter famous at the time.
They could have been given a higher profile and more of the spotlight - they deserved it.
Jonathan Taft is sincere in his role as the would-be suitor, Mitch, who is prepared to suffer the whims and fantasies of Blanche, up to a point, and Claire Rumball and Lucas Sunderland as the noisy neighbours, complete the cast with Judy Brett, and Brian Fisher who also built the set screen and railings.
Blanche's trunk, full of delicious feather boas, furs and floaty frocks was assembled by Vanessa Bishop and Bristol Costume Services, all lit by Kris Nuttall, with sound by Toby Lewis-Atwell.
The wisdom of staging such a long and demanding drama in a theatre that is so open to the elements will be debated, but it does deliver, given fair winds and following seas during this capricious summer.
*Having humbly succeeded the incomparable Cornish journalist, teacher and poet Frank Ruhrmund, as Minack Theatre critic, when he was well into his eighties and could no longer tackle its steep steps, may I express my condolences to his family, and thanks for the wisdom of his reviews.
Frank, who has died at the grand age of 95, never missed reviewing a Minack show in 33 years, and was a hard act to follow.