By Naomi Hamer
Tennessee Williams plays are often characterised by their exploration of families and individuals under pressure and in crisis. Whilst this holds true in Improv Theatre Sydney’s A Streetcar Named Hot Tin Menagerie the performance itself was equal parts true to the style of playwright Tennessee William and playful in its interpretation.
Created in the style of a Tennessee Williams play, A Streetcar Named Hot Tin Menagerie takes three of William’s best known plays in its title - A Streetcar Named Desire, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and The Glass Menagerie. Generally speaking, Williams’ plays are centred around the American south where he spent the first part of his childhood and can be read as semi-autobiographical. For the part of Sydney Improv Theatre’s 2019 Sydney Fringe Festival show they create a newly improvised 50 - 60 minute play each evening that is influenced by the starting points the audience give them at the top of the show. On opening night the first scene was between two classmates; rain, cloudy and cold weather was to be associated with sad feelings - which is definitely not something you would ever expect from a Sydney audience now is it? And an ice cream parlour was the classic southern location. From these small starting points the cast on opening night which included Anna Renzenbrink, Charlotte Salusinszky, Steve Kimmens, Maddie Parker, Jack Gorman and Owen Vandenberg crafted a melancholic portrait of small town mid twentieth century life. Not only did all the characters feel three dimensional but the tangled web of relationships between each of them was unravelled slowly but surely.
From Maddie Parker’s and Steve Kimmens rambling classmates bored by school to Kimmens’ devoted relationship for his mother who deserts him in the hopes of getting back with his father who had previously left them both. To having the news broken by Owen Vandenberg who’s own troubling backstory of loving the rain until the day his father slipped and fell makes us sympathise and laugh in equal measure but not let him off the hook for taking over the ice cream parlour and kicking poor Kimmens out of his home at the same time. Especially when it is revealed he has fired, Salusinszky who can’t seem to contain her unrequited feelings for her off-limits ex-boss Renzenbrink. Woah, it almost sounds like a soap opera there was so much going on but the Improv Theatre Sydney team delivered a fast paced and cohesive long form improvisation that felt true to a Tennessee Williams play without mocking or parodying it. The relationships between characters were revealed as the play unfolded, even characters that seemed unrelated had at least five degrees of separation in funny and unexpected ways that showed the strength of the ensemble as a team. Scene changes were also snappy and purposeful, building the layers of the play. In saying this, the cast’s accents were tolerable but not water tight, slipping in some instances although this didn’t take away from the overall experience and could be explained away by the improvisational nature of the performance. The costumes were reminiscent of the mid twentieth century and evocative with floral a-line dresses and long pleated skirts and suspenders for the men characterising the overall style. The set was made up of two simple wooden chairs and two benches on the stage and arch mirrors towards the back. Whilst the lighting did its job generally well, there were moments towards the end of the performance where it struggled to keep up with how the performers were working the stage, taking a few moments to adjust to the pace. Although the only real solution to this would be to drench the entire stage in light for the entirety of the performance.
Overall I found A Streetcar Named Hot Tin Menagerie to be a really enjoyable and feel good night at the theatre. The Improv Theatre Sydney ensemble built a really palpable trust between each other which allowed such close and intimate relationships to flourish on stage anew each evening. If you enjoy seeing a cast of fresh faced actors think on their feet and the style of Tennessee Williams afresh, then this is for you.
A Streetcar Named Hot Tin Menagerie by Sydney Improv Theatre runs from Thursday 26 September to Sunday 29 September 2019 at Blood Moon Theatre, Potts Point.
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.