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A Streetcar Named Desire/The Crucible, Nice Swan Theatre Company at The People's Theatre, Newcastle

Published by: Steve Burbridge on 27th Feb 2012 | View all blogs by Steve Burbridge

Nice Swan Theatre Company is a North East based productions company which focuses on giving local talented under-25-year-olds the chance to be involved in a professional scale production. They have earned themselves a reputation for staging the highest-quality productions and continue to grow and evolve. 2012 sees Nice Swan Theatre Company enter its fifth year and what better a way to start than with a double bill of well-known and much-loved plays – A Streetcar Named Desire and The Crucible. STEVE BURBRIDGE went along to The People’s Theatre to review both for UK Theatre Network.

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A Streetcar Named Desire – 21 & 22 February 2012

Written by Tennessee Williams, in 1947, the issues and themes explored within this captivating and disturbing landmark play are as resonant today as they were during Williams’ lifetime. Human relationships are fragile and so is the mind.

Set in the French quarter of New Orleans, we were introduced to Blanche DuBois (Katie Gibson), a fading, complex and somewhat  manipulative Southern belle, Stella (Jessica Brady) her estranged, downtrodden sister and Stanley Kowalski (Dale Jewitt), Stella’s animalistic husband and a rising member of the industrial, urban working class.

At the centre of the drama lies an epic battle of both identities and will, the outcome of which lies with Stella and, ultimately, she is forced to make a decision which will tip the balance forever.

As always, Nice Swan manages to instil even the most ‘classic’ pieces of theatre with a new and invigorating lease of life, a unique and innovative slant, and they are to be wholeheartedly commended for such creativity, imagination and bravery.

The acting within this piece was of the highest standard imaginable and combined with atmospheric lighting design from Terrence Errington, evocative incidental music, sharp, stylish and slick direction by Lewis Pilton, the production was intensely compelling.

Despite the fact that Act One ran to a mammoth two hours which, in my opinion, is a tad too long, the audience seemed to retain their interest throughout and sat enthralled. Act 2 was slightly shorter, coming in at around the 90 minute mark.

Undoubtedly, one of the major factors in holding the attention of the audience was the superb quality of the performances within the piece. Katie Gibson was phenomenal as Blanche and she delivered a tour-de-force performance to rival any West End leading lady. Such an exquisite talent, breathtaking conviction, and commanding performance is exceedingly rare and she has established herself as a performer to watch out for in the future. No doubt, she has a promising career ahead of her.

A resounding success!

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The Crucible – 23 & 24 February 2012

Having studied Arthur Miller’s 1953 study in hysteria, which was written as a parable for the events of the communist fearing McCarthy era in the USA, I was very much looking forward to Nice Swan’s take on the play.

However, a few dubious directorial decisions marred my complete enjoyment of the production. Firstly, by changing the setting of the piece from Salem during the 1692 witch trials to ‘No Place, during no specific time’, I felt that some of the power of this dark and twisted tale of revenge, unrequited love and the power of fear within a community was diminished. Also, having a female play Reverend Parris jarred with me and prevented me from being totally able to suspend my disbelief – in fact, it actually came over as slightly gimmicky. Although, I must point out that this observation is in no way a negative reflection upon Lauren McNeillie’s sterling performance.

In general, the performance standard was mixed. Some members of the group demonstrate greater promise than others, and it was performances by actors playing comparatively ‘minor’ roles who, in my opinion, stole the show. Dylan Stafford, as Hale, was superbly sinister, whilst Bethany Walker was deeply affecting as Elizabeth Proctor. Both the aforementioned performers were so engaging in their roles that they actually outshone Laura Stoker (Abigail Williams) and John Mitchell (John Proctor).

It is, though, commendable that the entire cast performed in such a thoroughly professional manner, considering the conduct of some in the auditorium. Never before have I had such misfortune as to sit amongst an audience so totally devoid of both theatre etiquette and common consideration of others. The incessant rustling of crisp packets, ring-pulling of cans  - and even fully-blown conversations being conducted at a level that was equally as audible as the voices of the onstage performers – must have been as much of a distraction to the cast as it was to my companion and I. This fault is not only attributable to the ill-mannered members of the audience, but also to the lack of responsibility shown by the stewards on duty.

A real shame!

 

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