A white canvas stage, ripe for splatter-painting, greets the audience of A Streetcar Named Desire at the Lyric Hammersmith. This is the second show in Secret Theatre company’s 48-hour performance marathon, and the inventiveness of direction, design and performance indicate that those with a ticket to see all seven shows this weekend are in for a treat.
A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams is always going to be a winner, especially for those such as myself who did not study it in school and therefore have not been overwhelmed by a multitude of versions. The script and story is an emotional rollercoaster, and I refuse to believe anyone can hold back a heartstring quiver at the tragic line “Whoever you are, I have always depended on the kindness of strangers” – which incidentally lands perfectly when delivered in this production by Nadia Albina.
This performance feels like a ticking time-bomb. It must be a risk assessor’s nightmare, with water and edibles flying around and actors launching themselves up and down un-footed ladders and balancing on walls. Throw in some hand-popped balloons and you have edge-of-your-seat tension. It increases the already volatile atmosphere of the text born from themes of jealousy, money and alcohol abuse manifesting itself in passionately violent outbursts from Stanley, well played by Sergo Vares.
When a play has been staged as much as this one, you can certainly get away with deviating from loyalty to the original. This production actively invites you to deconstruct the creative choices by deliberately ignoring some textual elements and thereby shaking you out of a passive viewing experience, such as how the “big-boned” Mitch is in fact played by a very slender actor (Leo Bill). I liked it: this is the theatre after all, not a documentary! Our imaginations are engaged as we explore the layers of directorial and design-based meaning, such as simple and poignant coloured strip lighting. This lighting takes a very striking turn when switched to bright white, revealing Blanche’s true age to Mitch. The moving bathroom and general haphazardness to props has the danger of being cumbersome, but instead appears slick and makes the play snappily paced.
The calibre of acting is very high: the on-stage sisterly relationship between Stella (Adelle Leonce) and Blanche (Albina) feels incredibly organic and both women are entrancing in their roles. Albina, who is born without a right forearm, when interviewed in the Guardian mentioned her surprise at being cast in the role of Blanche; I for one look forward to the day when this is no longer a surprise. She performs a decadent, indulgent, innocently sexy Blanche and she is certainly one to watch out for in the future.
Secret Theatre’s A Streetcar Named Desire makes two and a half hours fly by in a whirlwind of unconventional misguided love, and coupled with the fantastically chaotic staging is a refreshing afternoon of drama.
A Streetcar Named Desire played at the Lyric Hammersmith on 28 February as part of Secret Theatre’s ‘Grand Finale’. For more information, visit the Lyric Hammersmith website.