Photos courtesy of The Other Richard
We Are Chester’s very own James Wright headed to Theatr Clwyd recently to finally achieve a childhood goal. Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire certainly looked like it impressed him.
Ever since I was little, I have wanted to watch Tennesse Williams’ iconic A Streetcar Named Desire. I’d seen it parodied on The Simpsons (wherein Marge Simpson took on the role of Blanche DuBois) and watched snippets of the 1951 movie starring Marlon Brando as Stanley Kowalski. And whilst neither of these were full viewings, I knew I liked what I saw, and so made it my goal to one day watch the play in all its wonder.
During the play’s Guest Night at Theatr Clwyd, what followed was everything I had ever thought and so, so, so much more than either of the two previous viewings could possibly have brought me.
Following the story of Blanche DuBois (Kelly Gough), a former teacher from a small Mississippi town who travels to the French Quarter in New Orleans to live with her sister, Stella Kowalski (played by Amber James) and her husband, Stanley Kowalski (portrayed by Patrick Knowles). Blanche’s arrival turns the Kowalski’s lives upside down, and, as time goes by and Spring gives way to Summer, the relationship becomes savage.
Blanche, who is otherwise anxious, seductive, flirty, and fiercely clever, tries her hardest to settle down in New Orleans, even catching the eye of one of Stanley’s best friends, Mitch (played by Dexter Flanders). However, Blanche, a victim of her own insecurities and previous loves, is unable to escape from her past and things start to fall apart very quickly for her.
Meanwhile, Stanley and Stella’s relationship turns hostile and wild, before Stella falls pregnant. With the stresses of a new baby on the way and her sister’s hang-ups, Stella agrees with Stanley that it would perhaps be best if Blanche moves back home.
The play builds in its’ chaotic nature until the final scene, wherein Blanche is left broken and fractured, and trusting the “kindness of strangers” as her salvation and redemption should arrive, but never does.
Often considered Williams’ best pieces, and one of the most important plays of the 20th Century, A Streetcar Named Desire is every bit as impressive on stage now, in 2018, as it must have been back in 1947. Director Chelsea Walker has managed to make the play feel so timeless that, as I recounted during the play’s intermission, this would not feel dated 10 years from now. Or even in another 50 years time.
There’s a wonderous majesty on display, with each and every one of Streetcar‘s cast being seemingly born to play their respective roles, and each one fitting the mould that makes the play so impressive.
Kelly Gough (Blanche DuBois) manages to bring the vulnerability of DuBois to life in ways that had me moved deep in my core. We watch Gough put on a performance that is tender, yet powerful, and all the while, brutal in its portrayal of how an outsider is treated by society. Gough moved me (almost) to tears as the build-up to the final scene hit like a tonne of bricks. And then, during that scene, it breaks your heart and then throws it through the mud.
DuBois’ foil throughout Streetcar, the previously mentioned Stanley Kowalski, a Polish-American worker who gets a lot of crack for his heritage, is played by the brilliant Patrick Knowles. Stanley is, as the play portrays him, the antagonist throughout it all; he’s aggressive, arrogant, savage, brutal, violent, crass, crude, and wild in his behaviour. We know we should not like this character, but Knowles brings such a potent mix of comedy and charisma to the role that you simply can’t hate him. He draws you in close in a trusting embrace and then drives an elbow into your ribs for the Hell of it.
I’m convinced that Knowles could put on a decent show of any performance on his own.
Streetcar is, as it was when Williams wrote it all those years ago, a heart-wrenching and raw portrayal of the toxic ideals of masculinity, and the ways in which women were, and unfortunately, still are treated by society. There’s no sign of the otherworldly here, no fantastical notions of myths and legends; it is an honest rendition of humanity, and of madness. Stanley and his friends – even Mitch, who is supposedly the ‘good’ one – all befall those putrid stereotypes of masculinity. Vulgar, abusive, violent, impulsive, Stanley and his cronies amount to being little more than pack animals. And Stella, Blanche and the other female roles are all subservient to their male counterparts. Blanche is considered, for lack of a better word, a tart due to her promiscuous and flirty nature, and Stella is involved in an abusive relationship that is blatantly unhealthy, yet can’t see it for her devotion to her husband. The roles are all there, as plain as day, for us to see and assimilate with.
The play follows Blanche’s descent into madness in one of the most impressive scenes I have seen committed to stage yet. Being as spoiler free as possible, Blanche is visited by a ghostly apparition (the most prominent and apparent initial sign of the break in her psyche), surrounded by flowers. It needs to be watched to take in the splendour of the scene.
To be honest with you, dear reader, I was a little scared about writing this review. I thought to myself, “how on Earth am I going to do this thing justice?” It is not hyperbole to tell you that it left me speechless. Absolutely stunned. I have seen great performances, I have seen powerful performances, but this moved me. I was equal parts shocked, stunned, shaken, and spoilt by what I watched. I left Theatr Clwyd and my head was spinning. I tried to phone my partner to let her know it had ended, and I felt like I was lost in my words. I think I may have left a little bit of myself in that theatre that night.
Without a shadow of a doubt, this is the best piece of theatre I have ever seen. I now know how people feel when they well up and gush about their favourite actors and how this play or that movie changed their lives. Just, wow.
We Are Chester Final Thoughts: I honestly cannot say enough about this play. For reasons that weren’t necessarily apparent to me as a child, I had always wanted to see A Streetcar Named Desire. The best place for it was to be at the theatre, I thought. And boy was I right! With actors and actresses that put on a raw and emotive performance from beginning to end, and a story as poignant and important now as it ever has been, Chelsea Walker’s rendition of Streetcar is everything the prepubescent me could have ever have hoped for, and so much more. Without trying to portray any of those aforementioned toxic male qualities, I urge you all to go and see it whilst you still can. I’ve waited some 20 years to watch this play, and I loved every second of it. It might sound silly or like I’m gushing, but it genuinely did move me (very, very close) to tears. As I mentioned on Twitter during the intermission, only one word is necessary to sum this up; WOW.
⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ FIVE STARS (it would be so many more, but we operate a Five Star system here at We Are Chester, so I couldn’t)