Not enough urgency

A Streetcar Named Desire | Bristol Old Vic
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The Independent Culture

In America's Deep South, flighty, neurotic Blanche DuBois descends to stay with her sister Stella. The children of plantation owners, they come from a very different culture from Stella's husband Stanley, the embodiment of Yankee blue collar pride. The conflict and attraction between the faux-patrician Blanche and the gritty Stanley in the sultry heat of Noo Awl'ns forms the basis for Tennessee Williams' Pulitzer prize-winning play. The dominant performances come - unsurprisingly - from Tara Fitzgerald as Blanche and John Sharian as Stanley. Ms Fitzgerald throws herself heart and soul into the portrayal of a woman who combines Scarlett O'Hara and Walter Mitty, and succeeds in touching the audience's heart particularly in the low-key moments. But she hasan occasional tendency to melodramatise the already hyper-melodramatic Blanche.

In America's Deep South, flighty, neurotic Blanche DuBois descends to stay with her sister Stella. The children of plantation owners, they come from a very different culture from Stella's husband Stanley, the embodiment of Yankee blue collar pride. The conflict and attraction between the faux-patrician Blanche and the gritty Stanley in the sultry heat of Noo Awl'ns forms the basis for Tennessee Williams' Pulitzer prize-winning play. The dominant performances come - unsurprisingly - from Tara Fitzgerald as Blanche and John Sharian as Stanley. Ms Fitzgerald throws herself heart and soul into the portrayal of a woman who combines Scarlett O'Hara and Walter Mitty, and succeeds in touching the audience's heart particularly in the low-key moments. But she hasan occasional tendency to melodramatise the already hyper-melodramatic Blanche.

At those times, she flaps her hands like a puppet and collapses like a ragdoll in a style more reminiscent of Le Coq than Stanislavsky. John Sharian was born to play Stanley Kowalski (although he could probably make a pretty good fist of Sky Masterson too). He is the physical embodiment of Blanche's description that "there's something downright bestial about him". A solid slab of brute power, Sharian has a forceful physicality which matches perfectly with that of Stanley. His bulk is unmoveable as a wardrobe, yet he manages to project a softer, adoring side in his interaction with Stella. Audiences usually divide into two camps: those who support "poor damaged" Blanche, and those who support "commonsense" Stanley. The programme notes argue that "Stanley is the ultimate consumer. Blanche wants to be consumed. This conflict is the creative engine that drives A Streetcar".

Yet in this production, both Fitzgerald and Sharian are so focused on delivering powerful presentations of their characters that this sense of interaction is lost. Instead, Blanche and Stanley are two remote poles, between whom Stella is increasingly torn. Consequently, it is Kate Isitt's performance as Stella that is most worthy of note.

Her performance is finely drawn, with a depth of complexity and believability lacking in the more cartoon-like leading characters. Ms Isitt has taken what the script offers, and built a strong and sympathetic three-dimensional character out of it. Yet despite the actors' efforts, there is a strange void at the heart of this production. It is undeniably a well-told story, effectively staged and with a set which echoes the decayed grandeur of the DuBois family. Yet it lacks the sense of urgency and tension which won Tennessee Williams' play its status as a classic. Despite director Andy Hay's laudable efforts, there is little sense of the claustrophobia and oppressive heat which play such a vital role in shaping the interpersonal dynamic. Whilst undoubtedly a fine staging, this will not go down in the annals as a truly classic Streetcar.

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