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Review: A Streetcar Named Desire, Northern Stage, Newcastle

A funky modern version of A Streetcar Named Desire opened the Secret Theatre season at Northern Stage

***
Alexandra Davenport Sergo Vares as Stanley in Tennessee Williams' classic A Streetcar Named Desire
Sergo Vares as Stanley in Tennessee Williams' classic A Streetcar Named Desire

This was my introduction to the Lyric Hammersmith’s Secret Theatre season which has come to Newcastle after a talked-about run in London.

It was borne of necessity, it seems. The London theatre is being refurbished so artistic director Sean Holmes, who directed this production, put together a young ensemble and rehearsed a raft of plays to perform away from the main stage.

In London the season was secret because ticket-holders didn’t know which show they would see on a given night.

Here Tennessee Williams was signalled in advance although a latecomer might not have been aware given the apparent all-purpose nature of the set.

Resembling a sort of broken white box, it proved to be a bit of an ice cube in which to evoke the pressing heat of New Orleans and the crackling tension of a family under stress.

There’s a cast of 10 but essentially the play’s a three-hander. Newlyweds Stella and Stanley have a baby on the way and a rackety sort of lifestyle on what we might call a working class estate.

Then in comes Stella’s mysterious sister Blanche with a suitcase-laden trolley, an ill-disguised drink problem and a head full of airs and graces.

The animosity between Blanche and Stanley is expressed in terms that hint at a deeper and more animal attraction.

But actors Sergo Vares and Nadia Albina rarely get within half a prop-littered stage of each other and Adelle Leonce’s Stella seems unconcerned by all that swirls around her.

English accents, making the characters seem more like denizens of the ‘smoke’ than somewhere steamy across the ‘pond’, are perhaps meant to signal the universality of the story but ‘Streetcar’, to me, seems a very American tale.

Sad to confess, the thing that most had me on the edge of my seat was the precarious ladder which the actors had to negotiate at various points.

In particular I worried for Nadia Albina who was born with no right forearm. But of course, she proved to be as agile as a cat.

Streetcar is on again on June 7, 10, 12 and 14 and there’s also a chance to see the same actors in three other plays, Woyzeck, Chamber Piece and Glitterland.

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