Tag Archives: Tennessee Williams

Stella Performance


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.





Dim and Dimmer


Warwick Arts Centre, Coventry, Tuesday 10th November, 2015


Headlong’s production of Tennessee Williams’s 1940s play curiously sheds light by keeping us in the dark. It’s very dimly lit – we are warned it will be by Tom (Tom Mothersdale) in his prologue. He tells us we are about to see a ‘memory play’ as if that’s a genre, and he narrates – Williams’s language has a languid poetry to it that shines through the gloom. At first I find the darkness problematic; it’s as though Tom’s memory involves deterioration of vision. The cast is almost lost in Fly Davis’s black box of a set. It’s like they’re in a basement during a blackout. And yet powerful performances emerge. Greta Scacchi dominates as overbearing mother, Amanda, with her flights of nostalgia and old-fashioned manners. Amanda enlists Tom to bring home a gentleman caller for his sister – her only hope is to marry her off. Scacchi is the engine that drives the performance, keeping us hooked in while the design and production choices keep us at a remove. Distortions of sound by Gareth Fry along with bursts of popular music of the time link the scenes with mood as much as Tom’s narration.

There are striking moments when the director’s choices work brilliantly and brutally: the blocking is stylised in contrast with the naturalistic delivery of the dialogue, providing visual metaphors (when you can see them!) and colouring Tom’s recollections of these events. It was obviously a dark time for him! The moment when they say grace before dinner is an example where this expressionistic staging illuminates the inner life of the characters.

Tom Mothersdale has a nice line in sarcasm – it’s never stated overtly but Tom’s secret life, what keeps him out until the wee small hours, is hinted at (a typical feature of Williams’s work). As club-footed Laura, Erin Doherty brings out the girl’s emotional immaturity – Laura is hampered by more than physical disability, she has social anxieties too; and as the gentleman caller Jim, Eric Kofi Abrefa is like a breath of fresh air in the claustrophobic setting. Odd though that Tom can recall in such detail scenes in which he doesn’t appear, but hey ho…

The second act packs the emotional punch. Director Ellen McDougall carries off the denouement with aplomb – her unconventional way of presenting Tennessee Williams pays off by the end. It may not be easy on the eye, peering into the murk, but there is a blinding flash of realisation and, literally, a shattering moment. Sometimes despite and sometimes because of the conceptual presentation, the emotional truth of the piece remains intact, even if the glass animals do not. Our hopes, dreams, aspirations, and egos are as fragile and brittle as Laura’s vitreous zoo.

Greta Scacchi shines as Amanda (Photo: Tristram Kenton)

Greta Scacchi shines as Amanda (Photo: Tristram Kenton)

Lady and the Tram


Warwick Arts Centre, Coventry, Tuesday 11th November, 2014 

The Secret Theatre Company’s  new production of the Tennessee Williams classic is startling in its approach.  The stage is stripped bare, with only white walls, strip lighting and a stepladder as scenic elements – there is also a poor man’s TARDIS: a cubicle with a shower curtain that is wheeled on to represent the bathroom.  There is no attempt to convey any sense of the Deep South in terms of setting or even accent and so mentions of place names jar, as though New Orleans is a London borough you’ve never heard of.  Not only is the play robbed of its sultry, steamy qualities, many of its passions are also misdirected.

A minimalist approach could work very well but I think director Sean Holmes overdoes it with the alienation effects.  By the interval, the starkness and the blaring music had given me a stonking headache.

That said, there are some powerful and striking moments of theatricality, many of them from Nadia Albina as Blanche – but we are not allowed to become emotionally involved with any of the characters, kept at a distance as we are.  Sergo Vares’s Stanley is not meaty enough; Adelle Leonce’s Stella veers from the engaging to the chillingly deadpan; and Steven Webb has a lovely moment as a young man with whom Blanche flirts.

By the final act, I think I’ve cottoned on.  Blanche’s mental state has deteriorated so much it strikes me we have been in her head all along.  it’s all nightmarish because that’s how she experiences the world.. Sort of.  Maybe.  Perhaps.  I don’t know.

This Streetcar is bold and brash but doesn’t quite reach its destination.  It is not so much reliant on the kindness of strangers as on a kind of strangeness.

On the case: Nadia Albina as Blanche

On the case: Nadia Albina as Blanche

Handled With Care


New Vic Theatre, Newcastle under Lyme, Friday 30th September, 2011


Tennessee Williams’s classic play is given a light touch in this production at the superlative New Vic.  Guest director, Sarah Punshon, allows the humour within the piece to come through without denying any of the characters their intensity.  The symbolism, which can be heavy-handed in these plays, is also allowed to unfold – the significance of disabled Laura’s collection of glass animals becomes crystal clear: this is her private world, what she has been reduced to.  She cleans the tiny figures and imagines lives for them, having retreated from the world outside the apartment.   The fire escape looming large in Michael Holt’s set design offers escape but Laura seems unable to approach it without stumbling.


The portrayal of Laura by Katie Moore is excellent.  However frustrated the other characters get with her most annoying traits, the audience can only feel sympathy for the poor creature, her confidence shattered, her hopes chipped and scratched.  Gentleman caller Jim, played with irresistible charm by Harry Livingstone, recognises Laura needs delicate handling.  He boosts her self-esteem to the point of getting her to dance around the flat with him – all the more crushing then is his revelation he is engaged to be married.


Laura’s mother Amanda is not without delusion.  Obsessed by nostalgia for her former life in the Deep South, she hankers for the days when gentleman callers were queuing up to see her and slaves answered her every beck and call.  Cracks have appeared in this protective layer of happy memories as Amanda realises she needs to get Laura married off if the two women are to be looked after.  Louise Bangay plays Amanda with verve and intensity.  The Southern US accents are spot on but there is the odd instance when Amanda’s exuberance gets the better of her diction and the sense of some lines is lost completely.  This could be due to first night nerves, I suppose; but the cast need not fear.  This is a splendid production, always engaging and entertaining.


James Joyce (not THAT one) holds the play together as son/brother/narrator Tom.  He has a nice line in sardonic delivery and a glint in his eye that suggests his constant retreat to the movies has more going on than he discloses.  Williams was to explore and develop this theme in his darker works but this production is a well-crafted beauty, with glints of brilliance as we dust off the delusions that coat these interesting figures.