A Streetcar Named Desire – Pitlochry Festival Theatre

Review by Dominic Corr

Writer:Tennessee Williams

Director: Elizabeth Newman

A searing light of success has been emanating from the Pitlochry Festival Theatre this season, as the choking heat of Tennessee Williams’A Streetcar Named Desireenvelopes the theatre’s auditorium. As one of theatre’s paramount characters, Blanche Dubois, the daughter of a wealthy family brought down to the broken and spurned to the edges of society, yearning for a desire she can longer claim, finds herself at the door of her young sister in the back alleys of New Orleans. Directed by Pitlochry’s artistic director Elizabeth Newman, as suspected, the show’s command of the dramatic and raw openness to the brutality of the story makesA Streetcar Named Desireunquestionably one of the essential shows to catch in Scotland this year.

Though the production benefits from several additional ensemble roles (Deidre Davis making a wonderfully brazen Eunice), Newman’s direction of the show is led perfectly by the three hands at the helm. Nalini Chetty (Stella) and Matthew Trevannion (Stanley Kowalski) as the hopped-up pair brimming with life, virility, and passion make the central narrative flow unimpeachably along with Kirsty Stuart as Blanche DuBois. And heavens, where to even begin with Stuart’s performance?

The range of intelligence and fractured poise within Stuart’s Blanche is enrapturing. The image-obsessed Blanche is ruled by their survival and this Southern belle’s charisma and quick-natured confidence carry them into the waiting arms of those she chooses in a performance that captures Blanche’s nuances. With an aversion to bright, uncovered lights, the ageing Blanche constructs a world around them to fend off the anxious fractures of her impending poverty, disillusionment, and trauma at losing her young husband Alan to suicide and another man. The performance is one of the most impressive on Scottish stages right now, Stuart capturing the fragility and humanity of the role, all the while presenting a contemporary woman plucking at every thread and avenue they have open to them.

Stella, in some ways, got everything that they wanted. And everything Blanche desired – even if her protestations to the ‘squalor’ of it all attempt to conceal it. Chetty is a delight to watch, a strong-minded woman but yielding and appreciative of their sister’s position. Trapped, her chemistry with Trevannion’s Stanley makes you want to cry out and tell her to get away from him, but horrifically, with every return she makes, Chetty conveys that distressed hopes that may one day kill Stella.

There’s a revolting contemporariness to Matthew Trevannion. Narcissistic, oozing chauvinism, there’s a tangible resistance to the pernickety snobbishness Blanche introduces to his home – his retorts to her remarks describing him as a “Polack” are equally as chilling when aggressive as they are when still and silent. The brutish thug expected of Stanley exists in the physicality and presence, but beneath is a man just as cruelly calculating and manipulative. The snapping quickness in Trevannion’s transitions from the cruelty to Blanche into a pleading, begging, almost snivelling sorrow with Stella is enough to leave the audience with whiplash and an all-together too familiar tactic of abusers acutely captured by the central cast and Newman’s direction.

Capturing a noxious contrast of the Deep South’s intensive sun, Jeanine Byrne’s lighting cascades half the set in a permanent flaming glow: the green and muted azures catch the coppers and cold metals of Emily James’ rotating set-piece. Once that spirals faster as reality surrounds Blanche at a tightening pace, her world broken not even the lights and noises of the Streetcar remain the same, sped-up, reversed, distorted, and perverted. The remarkable simplistic and effective lighting design of the titular Streetcar envelopes the stage, turning Stuart and Trevannion into silhouettes: Blanch, broken, Stanley, a monster, the ferocity and speed increases of the light mingling with the distorted audio and record scratches mingle into a staggeringly powerful and effectively staged climax.

Intoxicating, like a lemon coke on a blistering summer’s day, this is a definitive version of Streetcar. Though not revolutionary – it perfects the existing story. Newman comprehends the desperation and brutality, capturing the nuances of one of the great tales of America’s self-obsession and the historical poverty-stricken South. With one hell of a breath-taking lead performance from Stuart, it’s a show to remember.

Runs until 30 September 2023 | Iamge: Contributed

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