A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE
Crescent Theatre, Birmingham, Sunday 10th November, 2019
When she has nowhere else to go, fading Southern belle Blanche Du Bois rocks up at her sister’s seedy place in the ironically named Elysian Fields – her sojourn turns out to be more like a visit to Hades. From the get-go, playwright Tennessee Williams indicates that all is not how it seems, making us privy to the lies Blanche tells others about how little she drinks. It then becomes a matter of time for her sordid secrets to come to light, and in true Williams tradition, for the spectre of homosexuality to rear its degenerate head (although it is only ever implied).
As Blanche, Annie Swift captures the airs and graces of the role, keeping the mannerisms and declarations on the right side of camp, lest the character become a laughingstock. As the fantasies with which Blanche shields herself are stripped away, she becomes increasingly unable to cope with grim reality, resulting in mental decline. Doing the bulk of the stripping is brutish brother-in-law Stanley (Ollie Jones) a domineering primate, bully and domestic abuser. Jones is fine in the role; his Stanley has a sharpness rather than a brooding quality. Beth Gilbert is excellent as the put-upon but feisty Stella, the bridge between her sister and her husband, between Blanche’s former life and this new, unwelcome and unsettling one.
There is strong support from Nicole Poole as Eunice and James Browning as Steve, a couple of neighbours. Even the most minor roles make an impression: for example, Destiny Sond as a neighbour, and Patrick Shannon as a young man making charity collections. Joe Palmer is altogether splendid as Harold Mitchell, the antithesis of Stanley, all politeness and good manners – until he can’t have what he wants.
The production is enhanced considerably by sultry lighting (designed by Patrick McCool and Chris Briggs) casting horizontal shadows across the scene, while vibrant sunsets paint the window. Andrew Cowie and Ray Duddin’s sound design, so effective at creating atmosphere of the street (we can hear the eponymous transport!), really comes into its own during moments when Blanche is becoming unhinged and we hear what’s going on in her increasingly deluded state.
James David Knapp’s direction creates some lovely moments of tension around the table, and the outbursts of violence are neatly handled. Everything comes together for a blistering final act, and we are left to consider who has it worse: Blanche being taken away or Stella left behind with a man who doesn’t stop short of sexual violence. Blanche’s troubles stem from the realisation that her husband was ‘a degenerate’ – everything she has done since his suicide has been leading her to this slippery slope, captivatingly portrayed here by Annie Swift and a powerful ensemble.
Leave a comment | tags: A Streetcar Named Desire, Andrew Cowie, Annie Swift, Beth Gilbert, Chris Briggs, Crescent Theatre Birmingham, Destiny Sond, James Browning, James David Knapp, Nicole Poole, Ollie Jones, Patrick McCool, Patrick Shannon, Ray Duddin, review, Tennessee Williams | posted in Review, Theatre Review
A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM
Crescent Theatre, Birmingham, Sunday 9th June, 2019
The Crescent’s summer touring production this year is Shakespeare’s enduring romantic comedy with a supernatural twist, and I am lucky enough to catch an indoor performance rather than brave the vagaries of the British summer!
This is an enjoyable, accessible production – Director Georgina Evans opts for modern-dress on a simple set of slender branches and fairy lights; although, I do find the draconian laws of Athens at odds with the familiarity of the attire. I think more needs to be made of the sheer unreasonableness of the patriarchy here (Marry whom I tell you to or be celibate for the rest of your life) and poor Hermia (Charlotte Thompson) needs to be more terrified/upset/resentful/what-have-you at the onset, so that when Lysander (the excellent Jacob Williams) steps forward with an escape plan, it comes as more of a relief, a desperate measure for desperate times. Hold up, I did say this is a comedy… In Shakespeare, a comedy is where the problems of the drama are overcome by the characters (as opposed to tragedy, where the characters are overcome by the problems). After this dark and severe (and potentially tragic) opening, the fun and frolics in the forest should come as sharper contrast. Evans has an eye for comic business, and it’s the little details, the interplay, the fleeting expressions, that bring the joy to this production.
Ollie Jones is Duke Theseus – he warms into the role as the play goes on, lacking the imperious tones and power of Andrew Cowie’s magnificent fairy king Oberon (special mention to Angela Daniels for his striking costume and headdress). Aimee Ferguson is a subdued Hippolyta, yet this conquered Amazon is not shy to express her views, through action, while Shady Murphy’s Titania is a dynamic presence. Les Stringer brings gravitas as the unreasonable Egeus, softening into a kind of Polonius figure when he is finally overruled by the Duke.
Charlotte Thompson has her moments as Hermia – particularly the slanging match with Jessica Shannon’s marvellous Helena. Jordan Bird is a pleasing Demetrius, vying with Jacob Williams’s Lysander – both do the lovestruck fool bit rather well. Dayna Bateman is thoroughly charming as the hardworking Puck, whose meddling in mortal affairs does not always go to plan.
The Mechanicals are a likeable bunch, led by ‘Rita’ Quince (Nicole Poole) with Scott Wilson’s Flute blossoming into a sublimely ridiculous Thisbe, towering over a diminutive Pyramus (Crescent stalwart James David Knapp having a crack at Bottom, so to speak). Knapp’s comic instincts are sound and I’d say he could afford to be even more bullish as Bottom dominates the group’s rehearsals.
While there are some line-readings that don’t quite come across, on the whole everyone handles the language rather well and with conviction, which is no mean feat when there are scenes comprised of rhyming couplets. Of course, the play-within-a-play provides the most laughs – it’s one of the funniest scenes in Shakespeare, in all theatre, probably, and the company do an excellent, raucous job with it. There’s a lovely celebratory feel to the closing moments and a rousing song to finish. Funny and sweet, the show would perhaps benefit from starker contrast between the dark and light to intensify the impact of both.
Top Bottom: James David Knapp (Photo: Graeme Braidwood)
Leave a comment | tags: A Midsummer Night's Dream, Aimee Ferguson, Andrew Cowie, Angela Daniels, Charlotte Thompson, Crescent Theatre Birmingham, Dayna Bateman, Georgina Evans, Jacob Williams, James David Knapp, Jessica Shannon, Jordan Bird, Les Stringer, Nicole Poole, Ollie Jones, review, Scott Wilson, Shady Murphy, William Shakespeare | posted in Review, Shakespeare, Theatre Review