Left – Nathaniel Dean, Sigrid Thornton. Cover – Steve Turner, Nathaniel Dean, Luke Hewitt, Benj D'Addario, Michael Loney, Sigrid Thornton. Photos – Gary Marsh Photography
A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams has got to be one of the most difficult scripts to tackle; everyone seems to have an opinion on how it should be done, and everyone seems to remember some production that did it best, to which all subsequent productions get compared. On top of that, there’s the classic film version to contend with. And if any of that weren’t enough, the material is daunting in itself, so why would any producer or director choose to put him or herself up against such a mass of precedent and invite the inevitable comparisons to so many countless other versions of this play?
There could be any number of reasons to produce Streetcar. Could it be a love for the script and all that it represents and inspires, or is it the need to face the challenge of producing it and selling it to audiences who’ve seen it all before, or is it the desire to make the definitive version? I suspect it’s a mixture of all of these motivations and more; but with Black Swan’s season-opening production of Streetcar, directed by Kate Cherry, it’s difficult to tell just what was the abiding thought behind the work.
Certainly, Black Swan’s Streetcar has evidently succeeded in selling itself to audiences; even before it officially opened, the season was extended an extra week to accommodate demand. So in that regard, assuming that this was one of the overarching intentions behind choosing to do Streetcar, Cherry and company have surely done themselves proud. But aside from getting people in to see the show, the waters of Cherry’s intentions get as murky as the waters of the bayou.
I think what Black Swan has on its hands is a desire to pay homage to the idea of A Streetcar Named Desire. The grit, grime and sweat of this powder keg world are alluded to, but remain elusive. The realism is lost in a sea of exaggerated and misguided accents; the dialogue is frequently muddied by these exaggerations to the point of being impossible to interpret. Blanche (Sigrid Thornton) and Stella’s (Jo Morris) voices are virtually indistinct in many scenes; their intonations blend together into a kind of sing-song exchange that masks the meaning behind some of their dialogue.
There are some bright spots, to be sure, as there are some talented performers hard at work in Streetcar. Sigrid Thornton as Blanche carries so much on her dainty little shoulders, and she is up to the task. She has some beautifully rendered arias throughout the piece, the most revealing and pitiful of which is sadly upstaged by the Mexican Woman (Rhoda Lopez) having been directed to make a funereal procession right in front of the most crucially revealing monologue Blanche gives. Nevertheless, Thornton’s Blanche is pitiful, sad and infuriating in equal measure, so well done to her.
When Nathaniel Dean bounds onto the stage as Stanley, he brings considerable energy and presence, and sends a jolt of electricity into the scene. Luke Hewitt gives an honest, sympathetic performance as the trusting and obedient Mitch. Kudos to Andy Fraser’s fight direction, and also to Matt Scott’s beautiful lighting design. Christina Smith’s set and costumes worked nicely together, although I did wish for more grunge, grit, untidiness, wear-and-tear, and more sweat stains like those on Stanley’s undershirt.
I found this production interesting to watch, but it was not a definitive version of Streetcar, if such a thing were ever possible beyond the groundbreaking original production, or even the iconic film version. Perhaps, like Blanche’s pretty fantasies, the idea of Streetcar is more desirable than the reality.
Black Swan State Theatre Company presents
A Streetcar Named Desire
by Tennessee Williams
Director Kate Cherry
Venue: Heath Ledger Theatre | State Theatre Centre of WA
Dates: 15 March – 6 April 2014
Tickets: $27.90 - $83.90
Bookings: www.ticketek.com.au | 1300 795 012