A Streetcar Named Desire, Octagon, Bolton

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The Independent Culture

Rancid whiffs of cooking hang in the air of this highly charged staging of Tennessee Williams's A Streetcar Named Desire.

Temperatures rise to fever pitch on Ciaran Bagnall's claustrophobic setting for the cramped New Orleans apartment decaying behind its once handsome facade. Bolton Octagon, continuing to strike out in its bold programming, sizzles with prickly heat.

The crude homeliness, where personal space is at a premium, is the stifling world into which floats Clare Foster's fluttering, faded Blanche DuBois. Leaving the streetcar on the route called "Desire", she's a long way from the old family plantation, Belle Reve. Except in her dreams. Only she and her sister, Stella (a touching performance by Amy Nuttall) know the truth of their shared past, stained by the shadow of the "epic fornications" of their ancestors. Stella wants to, and can, move on, but Blanche is trapped like a moth.

The maddening condescension of Blanche's grating Southern belle would provoke tensions in even the most welcoming of households. Her goading of her bullish brother-in-law Stanley Kowalski (a burly Kieran Hill) is agonising. Stepping into the shoes of Glenn Close, Jessica Lange and Rachel Weisz was never going to be easy, but Foster stamps her own jittery imprint on the role of Blanche. When Huw Higginson's finely-nuanced beau, Mitch, finally shines a naked light on her face, her game of secrets and lies is more or less up. Yet when – on the arm of a sympathetic asylum doctor – Blanche walks out tall, she and we are still swathed in illusion while her future life of incarceration bites at her ankles.

A melancholy emptiness echoes around David Thacker's production. He neither sentimentalises nor demonises his characters but shows them in all their fractured richness – providing realism and magic in equal measure.

To 9 October (01204 520661)