Left – Yann Collette and Isabelle Huppert. Photo – Pascal Victor.
Isabelle Hupert is in Australia for the second time, this time to star in a play which is an adaptation of Tennessee Williams' well-known work 'A Streetcar Named Desire' that contains additional text excerpts and songs. Piotr Gruszczyñski's dramaturgy and Krzysztof Warlikowski's direction and dramaturgy demolish all preconceptions of what this play may have meant to audiences that are familiar with Elia Kazan's famous 1951 film with Vivien Leigh and Marlon Brando. It takes genius and courage to challenge these fixations. This new take of the play is so unique that, it seems, the only familiar sign that has remained in it is the famous line 'I have always depended on the kindness of strangers', abandoned gleaming in the subtitles at the end.
A Streetcar combines the best of francophone theatre, European theatrical traditions, modern media technology and music to communicate the sequences of intricate psychological fractures that constitute the character, Blanche Dubois. This role and the show is a vehicle for the brilliance of actress Isabelle Huppert who plays this fragile, intelligent and tragic woman with strength and unimaginable nuances of vocal tone, body movement and stamina.
'I don't want reality, I want magic', says Blanche, finding herself in a world as magical as it could get. An ingenious set, lighting, haute couture costumes, make up and a constant soundtrack pull the text, referencing the common psychological condition that Blanche suffers from, through a magnifying prism that projects the painful dissections of her flimsy ego and its breakdowns.
The reef between Blanche and the characters that cohabit her world is even greater because of the stark contrast that they invoke. Stella, portrayed by Florence Tomassin, is considerate and ever-sacrificing to accommodate her sister versus Blanche's narcissism. Andrzej Chyra's Stanley is painfully and dangerously rough and realistic; he speaks French with a Polish accent which strengthens the divide between him and the educated Blanche even more.
Ambient sound, non-diegetic music and diegetic song are a constant undercurrent in this spectacle, producing subtle allusions to the best of monodramas devoted to abandoned female heroines. Solo songs punctuate the story, commenting and engaging the audience in the fashion of a Greek chorus but through the resources of one actor, Renate Jett, who brings to the stage her strong vocals and song writing skills.
Multimedia closes up on the psychological detail with a cinematic grasp. For Isabelle Huppert, an actress well-versed in both genres, playing to a camera that projects black and white images of close-ups of her face is nothing new. The effect on stage, however, is tremendously theatrical and pungent. The last image the audience sees of Blanche or Isabelle – at this stage character and actress have merged into one – is that of her eyes. They carry her disappointment of having destroyed disastrously yet another life situation but also the hope that the next encounter will bring along the magic of love like never before.
Théâtre de L'europe
based on 'A Streetcar Named Desire' by Tennessee Williams | adapted by Krzysztof Warlikowski
Directed by Krzysztof Warlikowski
Venue: Festival Theatre | Adelaide Festival Centre
Dates: 14 – 18 March 2012
Times: 8.00pm (14-17 Mar), 2.00pm (18 Mar)
Duration: 155 minutes (no interval)
Part of the 2012 Adelaide Festival
Written by Daniela Kaleva, University of South Australia