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South East
posted/updated: 08 Jul 2012 -
A Streetcar Named Desire
Tennessee Williams
society/company: Simply Theatre (directory)
performance date: 14 Jun 2012
venue: The Rhoda McGaw Theatre, Woking
reviewer/s: Binny Phillips (Independent review)

With their heavy weight singers, slick choreography, imaginative set design and complex lightening plots, Simply Theatre are best known for their lively performances of cult musical classics such as Return to the Forbidden Plant, Little Shop of Horrors and The Hot Mikado. It therefore came as a surprise when they announced their intention to stage Tennessee William’s 1947 steamy classic "A Streetcar Named Desire".

Streetcar tells the story of a clash of cultures between fading southern belle Blanche DuBois (Katherine Perren) and her brutish blue-collar worker brother-in-law Stanley Kawalski (John Sherringham). Their collision course is set from their first meeting, when Blanche arrives unannounced at her sister Stella Kawalski’s (Nicole Rose) and Stanley’s modest bedsit in New Orlean’s French Quarter, and the play follows a steady paced build-up to its inevitable violent and tragic conclusion.

Director Alison Hough paid an impeccable attention to detail in the staging and setting: a cast iron sink; an antique dresser; the hint of a bathroom to the back right of the bedsit; and a mock up of the much talked about 4 Deuces bar. The use of music, played by a live jazz pianist (Paul Ooi), added poignancy and poetry to some of the longer monologues where Blanche’s tragic past threatens to intrude on her connection with the present. The short interactions between various members of the supporting cast – the Kowalski’s neighbours Eunice (Helen Bracher) and Steve Hubbell (Mike Wood), a policeman, a prostitute, a sailor – gave the impression of a lively, sometimes brutal, sometimes tender community. My mouth-watered for hot tamales, an ice-cold Jax or Blue Moon cocktail and heart-broke during the thoughtfully chosen song between acts, A Dolly to Call My Own beautifully rendered by Emma Hough. Combined, these elements successfully propelled the audience into the hot humidity of multi-cultural down town New Orleans and allowed them to fully immerse themselves in the events about to unfold in the Kawalski’s apartment.

Nicole Rose’s depiction of self-effacing, down trodden Stella was perfectly proportioned between a woman who knew, and was content with her place in life as the home-maker, child bearer and subservient to her husband. The chemistry between her and Sherringham was touching and utterly believable. His switches between violence, lust and tenderness were fluid and all-consuming, sweeping up whoever and whatever lay in their path.

Steve Graham’s performance as Harold “Mitch” Mitchell, the potential suitor of Blanche, was sympathetic and endearing, and the scenes between him and Blanche were among my favourite. We followed his transition from innocent, gentle, puppy-eyed pursuer of Blanche to a man intolerant to her fiction with an ever growing sadness – for if a man such as Mitch cannot afford her kindness, who can? (epitomised in Blanche’s final words as she is committed to a mental asylum , “I have always depended on the kindness of strangers”).

It was Katherine Perren’s outstanding and heart-wrenching portrayal of Blanche that touched me most. Moth-like, flickering between the things she desires most – male suitors, attention, alcohol - I could not take my eyes off of her. She had the audience mesmerised by her bird-like movements and southern drawl and completely immersed in the fantasies she created to hide the truths she was unable to face. Her high class affectations, frailty and neediness evoked pity and frustration. Here was a wholly capable and natural actress set to rival Vivian Leigh herself.

Overall, this was without doubt the most professional amateur production I have ever seen. Simply Theatre have proved that they are no one trick pony and I eagerly await whatever production they next turn their skilled hand to.

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