A Streetcar Named Desire, the classic social commentary on the American way of life by Tennessee Williams, is brought to life on The King’s Theatre stage by Scottish repertory company Rapture Theatre.
Rapture Theatre are creating quite a name for themselves in their productions of these “American Classics” and the last production I reviewed –“Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” was one of my favourite theatrical productions of the past few years. For some reason that I just cannot pin down though, this production of “Streetcar” is just not working for me on the same level – it is just not pulling me into the story or the different worlds of Blanche and Stanley. I am just not sitting in my seat waiting for the next line from anyone.
Directed by Michael Emans and with a solid cast our main characters are
Blanche DuBois – Gina Isaac
Stanley Kolawski - Joseph Black
Stella Kolawski - Julia Taudevin
Harold “Mitch” Mitchell - Kazeem Tosin Amore
Steve Hubbel - Billy Mack
Eunice Hubbel - Michelle Chantelle Hopewell
Pablo Gonzales - Paul Kozinski
Originally written in 1947, “A Streetcar Named Desire” will forever in many people’s minds be associated with the classic 1951 film starring Marlon Brando and Vivien Leigh. Marlon Brando is to many people Stanley Kolawski, and it is often forgotten that as a then fairly unknown actor he also played this role in the original Broadway production of the play in 1947. Vivien Leigh is also to many people the definitive Blanche DuBois. Against these two iconic figures, Gina Isaac and Joseph Black are always going to have to struggle to stamp their own identities on their roles.
The biggest change of course to the film in this production is its multi-racial casting with Stanley and Mitch now being black instead of white as in the film. This is not though a case of “colour blind” casting for the sake of it to meet modern 21st century ideals. There have been many multi-racial castings over the years since the 1950s that had the personal approval of Tennessee Williams himself. There have also been many “all black” performances of “Streetcar” too. Tennessee Williams himself was a Southerner, and a multi-racial society was the world that he grew up in, and if anyone would have understood the racial dynamics at work at this period in time, then it would have been the writer himself. Sometimes I wonder if Stanley was intended to be black and changed to Polish as it is unlikely that at the time the work would ever have been published or performed in a segregated America at this time - who knows, just a thought. The one thing for certain is that a black Stanley Kolawski is nothing new at all. The big question of course is do the characters and the script itself support this change, as in the wrong hands elements of this story can quickly change into racial stereotyping. The script itself raises some questions as when Blanche mocks Stanley’s Polish ancestry he is quick to point out that he was born in America and proud to be an American.
So much has been written about this work over the years that there is little to add in this review, the DuBois and Kolawski families represent completely different backgrounds, educational and social upbringings and different aspirations. Gina Isaac brings all of these differences to the fore with her portrayal of Blanche, and there is an air of tragic loss of everything around her to this character. When Blanche lost the last of her family land and even the home “Belle Reve”, she lost also her identity and a large part of her French ancestry. Gina Isaac captures this well and it is interesting to watch as her Blanche dances along the razor edge that is her sanity and eventually slips off into insanity. There is also a very cruel and manipulative element to apparently “soft and delicate” Blanche. She knows all along the disruption and distress that she is causing in her sister’s house and the strain she is putting on Stella and Stanley’s marriage.
Joseph Black is a very good Stanley, but for some reason that knife edge tension and attraction between his character and Blanche is not really working here, and I don’t think it is anything to do with Joseph’s performance here, more the dynamics between the characters. If anything, Joseph Black is far too nice as Stanley. There is an element of refinement to Stanley here that makes his actions seem a little out of place at times.
Julia Taudevin has the far more difficult role of Stella Kolawski to play here, but always has to contend with the audience quite rightly questioning her blind acceptance of Stanley’s domestic violence towards her. Like her sister, Stella has also found herself having fallen far down the ladder of life and her upbringing at “ Belle Reve”. There is real tension (bordering on open dislike) between the two sisters here, and that never really comes to the forefront.
Kazeem Tosin Amore is a very good “Mitch”. An unexpected oasis of sensitivity for Blanche in a desert of crudity. There are some really touching moments between the two of them and Kazeem Tosin Amore stole more than a little bit of this production for me.
One odd thing though is that it is hot here, and Stanley comments on it being "100" outside at one point. There is little evidence of this overwhelming heat on our characters. Everything is almost as if it is on a cool day with a nice gentle breeze.
This is still an impressive production from Rapture Theatre, and some of the darkest elements in this story are handled with discretion. As the song throughout the show tells us “It’s Only a Paper Moon”.
Review coming soon