Review by Michelle Sutton
Red Line Productions presents A Streetcar Named Desire at The Old Fitz. The entire ambience of the theatre located in the Old Fitzroy Hotel is warm, cozy and inviting. Everyone is friendly and welcoming from the box office to the bar to the theatre. A fire is crackling when you enter and the smell of burgers and chips is calming and comforting, setting up the perfect winter evening at the theatre.
Often referred to as one of the most important plays of the 20th Century, Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire debuted in 1947 winning the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1948. It unflinchingly explores themes of class, race, love and violence in America and delves into the full gamut of human emotions including love, hope and the deepest sorrow.
Alexander Berlage directs this intimate production and manages to make it seem larger than life despite the small theatre size. Emma white has designed a set that looks worn and lived through, with a kitchen, dining table, bedroom and bathroom all in one space. The stage is in the middle with seats at the front and two small rows at the back. The effect is that the audience feels as though they are perched right in the swelteringly hot New Orleans apartment, with the tension between the characters becoming more and more claustrophobic throughout the play. It is an incredibly intimate setting and given the heavy subject matter of the play is a confronting experience that may not be suitable for the faint of heart. Sound designer and composer Zac Saric does an incredible job adding sounds that amplify the drama and contribute to the feeling that we are all sitting in a pressure cooker waiting for a final explosion.
Phoebe Pilcher has a lot of pressure on her as lighting designer considering the important symbolic role light plays throughout the play, fortunately, the lighting design Pilcher has created is mesmerising and magical. Standout scenes of the production involve the stage being illuminated only by birthday candles on a cake on the small dining table. The effect is beautifully eery and haunting. Along with acknowledging the hard work of the cast, a lot of credit is owing to the intimacy coordinator Chloe Dallimore and fight choreographer Tim Dashwood for the realistic depictions of love, desire and conflict. Every astounding attention to detail in the show culminates in a viscerally engaging experience.
Sheridan Harbridge stars as Blanche DuBois, an iconic character revered for her extravagance, memorable one-liners and tragic life full of trauma and unfulfilled dreams. Harbridge is incandescent as Blanche, brimming with passion, fragility, bravado and a tender yearning. It is impossible to look away from her whenever she is on stage. Catherine Van-Davies does a wonderful job portraying Stella, wearing a thousand emotions on her face at once. Unfortunately, her accent is not flawless and several times she drops back into an Australian accent which although a minor flaw can take the audience out of the illusion of the time and place of the play briefly. Ben O’Toole approaches Stanley Kowalski with a conscientious realism and the result is a truly powerful and disturbing portrayal of the character that rings true to real life. His approach and commitment culminate in scarily accurate depictions of toxic masculinity and uncomfortable power dynamics, it is so palpable it is almost harrowing to watch. The show also boasts an incredibly talented supporting cast, special mention to Josh Price who delivers a delightfully and devastatingly nuanced performance as Mitch who appears to be a well-mannered 1940s ‘nice-guy’ until he doesn’t.
After seeing the play staged this way, it is hard to imagine seeing it any other way. Seeing the same show on a large stage in a large theatre would seem cold and distant to me now. The overall experience and impact of the show is a true testament to the work of the show’s immaculate production design and director Alexander Berlage, as well as the absolute commitment of the cast to push themselves to find the vulnerability within the melodrama. Tennessee's script beautifully and brutally depicting the struggle of women to live free and dignified lives under the constraints of patriarchal society ring as true as ever. Red Line Productions take on A Streetcar Names Desire proves that you can breathe new life into a classic.
A Streetcar Named Desire is playing until 1 July and tickets are selling fast, I recommend you run to grab one while you still can.