Tennessee Williams’ play about struggling southern belle, Blanche Dubois, was brought to the stage of the Arts Depot in North Finchley. Performed by Lyric Hammersmith’s Secret Theatre, a group of twenty actors, directors, writers and designers, the production took the well-known story out of its stereotypically American context and brought it into contrast with the setting of the stage.
The play is generally produced in connection with its American roots. Set in New Orleans, it is heavily entrenched in the changing front of American ideals at the time: the warring ideals of the southern belle and the new ideals held by the new immigrants, like Stanley Kowalski. However, in this production we see those stereotypical southern accents lost, putting it in jarring contrast with Americanisms that they continued to use when speaking. Combine this with a set that consists of three white walls and a rolling cubicle, meant to represent a bathroom or a telephone booth at different times, and the production has moved away from attempting any form of its original context. The stark stage is set for drama – and the illusion of a second world is lost.
Taken out of its context, some of the play is certainly conflicting. Although a Blanche Dubois who sounds more like she came from Downton Abbey rather than Belle Reve is disconcerting, it certainly allows for other elements of the play to be further emphasised. The violent and sexual nature of the play takes on an almost dreamlike quality; it seems unreal in a way that is at odds with the shocking events that take place.
Lyric Hammersmith’s Secret Theatre have taken their various plays around the country, performing everywhere from London to Warwick. Although their presentation of A Streetcar Named Desire was jarring at times, it is nonetheless thoroughly entertaining, putting a delightful new spin on something that you think you already know.