A Streetcar Named Desire
By Tennessee Williams
Royal Exchange Theatre, 13 September 2016
The driving rain, the rollicking thunder, the flashing lightening, the dark Autumnal Manchester skyline, the pooled pavements where (no choice) you had to wade forward ankle-deep: all that was outside, a preamble (or so it seemed) to the main event.
Inside there was an emotional storm just as fierce, with this welcome production of Williams’ well known play, and Maxine Peake being Blanche DuBois.
There were a few additions and deletions, some meaningful (the presence of ghostly black women alongside the suggestion that Belle Reve had been a plantation – there is no evidence for this in the text, mind), others perplexing (The Pina Colada Song made an appearance: say what?). It ended with Blanche’s hackneyed line, ‘I have always depended on the kindness of strangers’, so the text had been truncated a little.
The dramatic structure of the play, what makes it work so well, was however intact. We see Blanche achieve happiness, or at any rate safety, with Mitch’s declaration of something like love: ‘You need somebody. And I need somebody, too. Could it be – you and me, Blanche?’ And then we see it taken away from her, a slow unravelling as her facade of lies – that anxious, fragile pose – crumbles into dust.
Peake’s performance is a play of smoke and mirrors, trickery and illusion. She shows us a Blanche who is never quite open and true; there is a pretension right up until the end (like the EU, kinda). At the end we realise that Blanche will never escape her loneliness; she is so lost that she has no heart, no centre, no values, and will never deliver on her promises (again, like the EU, kinda).
A Streetcar Named Desire is a cruel play, at root a Grand Guignol piece, and in my opinion Williams’ later, more experimental plays are his best or certainly his most interesting. It is anyway showing at the Royal Exchange until 15 October, further details can be found here.