March 16, 2012

A Streetcar

Filed under: 2012,Archive,Festival

March 14 , 2012
Adelaide Festival

A Streetcar
Based on A Streetcar Named Desire
by Tennessee Williams
Odeon – Theatre de l’Europe
Festival Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre
March 14. Tickets $ 30 – $ 129
Bookings : BASS 131 246/
Until March 18.

First performed in 1947, Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire is a 20th century classic, and one destined to endure because, in director Elia Kazan’s 1951 film version, we have a permanent record of many features of the original stage production – its design, theatrical style and, of course, the performances by Marlon Brando as Stanley, Kim Hunter as Stella and Karl Malden as Mitch. Vivien Leigh replaced Jessica Tandy as Blanche, and however disputable her interpretation, it remains the template for Williams’ portrait of a Southern belle in a changing world, a woman more sinned against than sinning.

The Adelaide Festival’s exhilarating Odeon-Theatre of L’Europe production, directed and adapted by Krzysztof Warlikowski (and translated by Wajdi Mouawad) is fascinating in its deconstruction – and liberation- of a play trapped in the amber of its time and place. It does not replace the published original and presumes a knowledge of it, but with its fragmented, mashed-up, but very recognizable text, it reframes the action and the meaning.

The excellent design by Malgorzata Szczesniak (inventively lit by Felice Ross) turns the spacious Festival Theatre stage into a bowling alley with rows of metaphoric skittles waiting to fall. It also features, literally, a glass menagerie – sealed, but transparent, acting spaces representing bedrooms and bathroom -highlighting the characters’ entrapped isolation. The real-time video screens, often a cliché on the stage, work powerfully, usually in monochrome close-up, to intensify the performances.

Central to the success of this production is the outstanding performance by Isabelle Huppert as Blanche. Waifish, coquettish, anxious, euphoric, she captures the wild mood swings of Blanche, the party girl in little black dress and stilettos; Blanche with an eye for St Laurent and Dior clothes she can’t afford; Blanche the lost soul whose time is running out. It is a portrait that reveals her energy and intelligence as well as her trusting nature. When she flirts with Stanley in what Williams calls their date with destiny, her vulnerability is terrifying. As Stanley, Andrzej Chyra is blunt, selfish and deliberately uncharismatic – even if he is catnip to the enmeshed, sexually charged Stella (Florence Thomassin). Yann Collette plays a rather sinister Mitch and Renate Jett as Eunice, doubles as a singer/narrator.

Not everything works, however. The interpolations from other literary sources are sometimes cryptic and – especially the huge scrolling text of a 16th century Italian poem about star-crossed warriors Tancredi and Clorinde – seem misjudged. Similarly, the narrator’s direct address to the audience about commitment in love, and the use of songs, such as the cheesy Eric Carmen composition All by Myself, is jarring.

But nothing detracts from the vivacious assurance of this production, or our sense of re-visiting a great play in an invigorated way.

Murray Bramwell

“Masterful wringing of a belle” The Australian, March 16, 2012, p.14.

No Comments »

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Leave a comment