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Theatre review: A Streetcar Named Desire at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds

It’s easy to get lost in the contradictions of a new production of A Streetcar Named Desire, says SUSAN DARLINGTON, but it’s ultimately worth the trip

Rating: 3/5

 

Tennessee Williams’s classic play about lust, jealousy and pride is set in the swampy heat of New Orleans but here Secret Theatre company designer Hyemi Shin has reimagined the central cheap apartment as a kind of icebox — three stark white walls forming a set that’s lit by vertical neon strips.

The harsh lighting creates a distance between characters who, in the original text, smoulder with tension and lust in the cramped claustrophobia of the building. 

It’s an unforgiving light that casts no shadows on the fading beauty of Blanche DuBois (Nadia Albina) or the increasingly elaborate lies she tells.

And while Williams creates an ageing southern belle out of Blanche, here the actors speak in English accents. 

Perhaps director Sean Holmes could have had the courage to completely modernise the play and set it in inner-city Leeds. 

Yet there are other aspects that zing with freshness. Balloons bounce across the stage, symbolising the fragile relationship between Blanche and would-be suitor Mitch (Leo Bill) before they’re savagely burst by Sergo Vares’s Stanley. 

Watermelons, with all their attendant sexual connotations, are sliced to represent a game of poker, while Stella (Adelle Leonce) and Stanley repeatedly eat from a tub of ice-cream as the atmosphere and sexual chemistry heat up. 

There’s little sense of faded gentility in the production but the sense of violence permeates throughout, from neighbours throwing crockery out of the window to Stanley overturning tables and most powerfully in the calculated stillness of his implied rape of his sister-in-law.

Blanche, in turn, may make her entrance by swigging a bottle of liquor while pulling a huge trunk of suitcases but her drinking is overshadowed her physical and emotional neediness. 

This subtly repositions how she is perceived and, in this interpretation, the production’s boldness proves a success.

 

Runs until September 25, box office: wyp.org.uk

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