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A Streetcar Named Desire at Bolton Octagon

Published by: Caroline May on 19th Sep 2010 | View all blogs by Caroline May

Brace yourself for the sultry atmosphere of summer in New Orleans as Bolton Octagon stages Tennessee Williams’s modern classic about sexual power play between the faded remnants of America’s effete southern aristocracy and a new wave of unromantic European immigrants.

 Blanche and her younger sister Stella are all that remain of the once wealthy DuBois family.  Stella left home ten years ago and has embraced a new life in a poor inner-city area as the wife of rough, working-class Stanley Kowalski.  But Blanche stayed loyal to her gentrified roots, and after a long separation of both time and space she arrives unexpectedly and incongruously on Stella’s rickety doorstep.

 Blanche’s self-centred behaviour and superficially refined ways rub up against Stanley’s extremes of vulgarity and machismo, and Stella’s loyalty to her past and present is constantly put to the test.  Aside from the domestic conflict, the play’s fascination lies in the gradual revelation of Blanche’s tragic past and the multi-faceted nature of her character.

 Director David Thacker’s focus on the characters is strangely unambiguous - the audience sees Blanche with Stanley’s harsh realistic gaze rather than through her own rose-coloured spectacles because Clare Foster’s Blanche is not ethereal and whispy but harsh and strident from the word off.  Amy Nuttall as her sister Stella is the most sympathetic character on stage, torn between the needy Blanche and her demanding husband, but Keiran Hill, although physically imposing, is too clean cut and plain nice to make Stanley into the archetypal he-man. 

 This production feels closer to the sharply defined realism of Arthur Miller than the woozy and feverish impressionism of Tennessee Williams.  Partly this is due to the challenge of staging these dream-like dramas in-the-round, as with the Royal Exchange’s production of The Glass Menagerie.  The playwright describes layers of rooms coming in and out of focus, their walls sometimes alive with reflections, lights and shadows - the design of the long-running Woman in Black is a brilliant example of how this can work - while Ciaran Bagnall’s set design can only offer us a floor plan and fixed furniture (although costume designer Mary Horan’s lavish frocks, furs and finery are to die for).  Even Carol Sloman’s music struggles to create any atmosphere.  In the end it is the sheer power of the story that carries the evening.

 A Streetcar Named Desire is on at Bolton Octagon until Saturday 9 October 2010

Tickets: from £9.50

Eves: Mon-Sat @ 7.30pm

Matinees: Fri 17 Sep; Sat 2 & Wed 6 Oct @ 2pm  

Box Office: 01204 520661



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