A Streetcar Named Desire

A Streetcar Named Desire
By Tennessee Williams. Genesian Theatre, Sydney. April 15 – May 7, 2023

Tennessee Williams's play A Streetcar Named Desire’s characters and quotes have become ingrained in the cultural fabric of society. Even as we glimpse back into the 1950’s, it’s hard to believe this play was written nearly 80 years ago. 

On first impression, Soham Apte’s set feels cleverly claustrophobic, an open view into a 2 bedder in downtrodden New Orleans - one room tightly wrapped around a table, and the other swallowed by the bed with a lonely streetlight and staircase along the side to an upper level. Windows peep out onto the street with the soundscape including the rattle of streetcars. The walls tighten on the cast like a grip in this common little apartment, its simplicity carefully set. The space is small, and it works; actors navigate action fuelled scenes in the space and fight choreography all timed and rehearsed to perfection. Spot on costumes by Susan Carveth complete the era appropriate feel. 

Co-Directors Tom Massey and Meg Girdler set up the foundation of complex relationships, of flawed personalities - the audience is interested and engaged. The actors are superb. At face value both sisters seem happy as Stella (Ali Bendall) is visited by big sister from the old south Blanche (Georgia Britt). Blanche despises the common living and marriage her little sister has succumbed to. Looking down on what she has become.  Little sister seems happy enough but why is Blanche here if she doesn’t like the place or the husband. Soon it becomes obvious the sisters have had shocking marriages and slowly begin to sink into the murky waters of both. Stella, a victim of abuse, regularly assaulted by her brute husband Stanley (Riley McNamarra) and Blanche haunted by her perfect ideals of marriage and its brain shattering conclusion. 

The devastating monologue by Blanche cements Britt’s fine performance as she brings hapless Mitch (Matt Doherty) into her world ever so slightly and earns his sympathy. Is she the spider who got the fly? Or ultimately found someone to complete her. Britt handles it brilliantly - we have watched her over-cheerfulness, gulps of liquor and shaking hands build to this first glimpse into her mind. Mitch feels every word and desperately tries to digest and control his reactions. Doherty is as skilled as Britt in this scene. Without words, every inch of him is invested. Is she at the end of the road just like that little streetcar named desire she rode in on?

As we see Blanche break, Stanley becomes more sinister and the very animal he is accused of being, having attacked her morality seeking out her past and relaying it to suitor Mitch on her birthday, he cheerfully hands her a one-way ticket home. When Stella is in hospital giving birth to their child he attacks and rapes Blanche. This, his last act, sends her into madness and shakes her grip on reality before the heartbreaking conclusion. McNamarra plays the heartless brute to perfection as we see him physically starting to take on an animalistic form while Britt continues to show her skill, shrinking and twisting her reality. Bendall, who has carefully played the bridge between the two, makes her gut-wrenching decision. 

Eunice (Rosy Daly) and Steve (Patrick Gallagher) round out the ensemble with some strong performances themselves, particularly Daly, who is the motherly shoulder Stella seems to have to lean on. 

Sitting in a darkened theatre with the darker themes of abuse, manipulation, social status, misogyny, mental illness and morality is hard. It is hard because these themes are still relevant. Even as humanity becomes more connected with the mind there is a long way to travel. The Genesian Theatre captured it all safely in the hands of Massey and Girdler. This is a standout production.  

Nicole Smith 

Photographer: Luke Holland www.instagram.com/lsh_media

Subscribe to our E-Newsletter, buy our latest print edition or find a Performing Arts book at Book Nook.