It’s always a tall order to take on the classics of modern theatre and Tennessee Williams’ 1948 classic A Streetcar Named Desire is notoriously well-trodden terrain. This production by the Genesian Theatre Company makes an admirable fist of it. The drama is centred on school teacher Blanche DuBois, who flees to New Orleans to take refuge in her sister Stella’s home after their ancestral estate is lost to debt. The hostility from Stella’s husband, Stanley, ultimately leads to a brutal confrontation and emotional breakdown. The truth of Blanche’s story slowly unfolds amid much emotional turmoil.
The performance took a while to find its feet, but led by Georgia Britt as protagonist Blanche, the play eventually found its rhythm. Britt grew more comfortable and authoritative as the evening progressed. Some of the actors struggled with the American accents and at times were difficult to understand, but the three main characters of Blanche, Stanley (Riley McNamara) and Stella (Ali Bendall) were crafted with skill and care.
At times the overall rhythm of the show was a little scattered and sketchy as some dialogue was rushed. Williams’ characters are rich with internal life and conflicting motivations, and they need time, stillness and slowness to allow the interiority of the characters to develop. While the actors were clearly a skilled bunch, they would have benefited from direction that gifted them more silence and time.
Soham Apte’s set was simple, but managed to put the outside of the building, the staircase to the upstairs, the two rooms of the house, the changing area and the bathroom all on the stage. This led to a little bit of confusion at times when characters outside were listening to characters inside, and it was sometimes unclear whether characters downstage were outside or inside. Still, the drama flowed effectively, the story was told with sufficient clarity and the audience’s attention was held consistently.
As the drama built, the performances became more urgent and more effective. Despite the setting of the American South in middle of the 20th century, Williams’ themes of human frailty, dishonesty, class, sexuality, gender power structures, morality, family and the clash of cultures in migrant societies remain relevant and pertinent to Australian society today.
Great drama needs to be continually revisited to demonstrate how its handling of themes endures through different times and across different cultures. While there is always a need to develop homegrown talent in writing and creative and production roles, as well as performing, there is always a place for restaging classics such as this. And the Genesian Theatre Company, while not providing any new or innovative insights into the work, gives a strong, workman-like performance, which preserves the author’s intention and brings it alive for a contemporary audience. Deserving of particular mention, Riley McNamara’s Stanley has one of the biggest sets of shoes to fill in the history of acting and handled the task with an understatement and muted violence, which at times became quite disturbing.
All in all, the Genesian Theatre company’s revisitation of this classic old chestnut was a strong and compelling treatment. It shows it is always worth reminding ourselves why the classics are classics and how great drama remains relevant throughout the passing of time.
A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams
Director: Tom Massey
Assistant Director: Meg Girdler
Set Design: Soham Apte
Costume Design: Susan Carveth
Lighting Design: Mehran Mortezaei
Sound Design: Michael Schell
Cast: Georgia Britt, Riley McNamara, Ali Bendall, Matthew Doherty, Rosie Daly, Patrick Gallagher, Shaun Loratet, Jenny Jacobs
A Streetcar Named Desire was performed from 15 April – 7 May 2023.