As far as modern classics go, it’s hard to surpass the tremendous influence the plays of Tennessee Williams has had over 20th Century theatre, and over modern day drama. Williams’s trademark romantic, lush, and oppressive evocations of domestic strife and broiling tensions sears itself onto the audience.
Which begs the question, in the game of adaptation: how much do you change, how much do you exaggerate, and how much do you leave exactly as is? In the case of Emma Jordan’s new production at the Lyric Theatre, her decision to stay faithful to play while paying great attention to the impressionistic depiction of mental illness results in a striking and emotionally wrought depiction of the classic play.
A Streetcar Named Desire follows Blanche DuBois, an heir to a wealthy family who, for reasons that soon become questionable, has chosen to live with her sister Stella, and her husband Stanley, for a hot humid summer in New Orleans. What initially seems like the set up for an erotic romantic comedy soon plummets into psychological turmoil and psycho-sexual competitions of strength and willpower.
Attention should first be paid to Aoibhéann McCann, Meghan Tyler, and Mark Huberman who play Blanche, Stella, and Stanley respectively for the admirable jobs of taking the source material, staying faithful to the original characterisations, but making the characters their own. Any production of A Streetcar Named Desire must overcome the fearsome hurdle of escaping the shadow of the famous 50’s adaptation where Marlon Brando tore up the screen as Stanley, arguably laying down the definitive portrayal of the character. While these thoughts were at the front of my mind upon the beginning of the play, by the intermission I had completely bought these actors as the characters, all semblance of the film long forgotten.
The writing, as ever, is impeccable and engrossing, and with such a confined location within the plot the set must squeeze every drop out of any detail given within the script. The perpetual clammy fog that lies over the set, the striking expressionistic lights that slash and near blind the characters, the use of (mostly) apt music, rickety wooden steps and simple and evocative use of costume all add up to a cohesive evocation of a time and place, one that is remarkably engrossing.
If you’ve never seen or read the play before, this adaptation is faithful enough to the original that it could very well become the definitive version for any budding theatre goer who wants to see what all the fuss is about.
A Streetcar Named Desire runs from the 4th May to the 8th June at the Lyric Theatre in Belfast. Tickets range from £15.00 to £24.50.
Director: Emma Jordan
Starring: Aoibhéann McCann, Meghan Tyler, and Mark Huberman.
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