A Streetcar Named Desire

Theatre Royal, Glasgow

Neil Cooper

four stars

THE plays of Tennessee Williams are the most fragile of things. One foot wrong on their highly strung tightrope, and everything can come tumbling down in a blizzard of over-egged melodrama. In a way, the delicacy of the plays reflects their heroines, a catwalk of damaged goods broken by the love that failed them. This is certainly the case for Blanche Dubois, who, as played by Gina Isaac, sashays into Michael Emans' Rapture Theatre production like a glamour chasing movie starlet on the slide, and unable to deal with her increasingly strained close-ups anymore.

Once she invades the crumbling nest of Richard Evans' set, which looms like a left-over wall in a bull-dozed slum, the fire she ignites in the local community sees her run rings round her sister Stella, given a long-suffering grace by Julia Taudevin. While men like neighbour Mitch fall at Blanche's perfectly manicured feet, only Joseph Black's Stanley, given more intelligence and articulacy than is often the case, sees through the act.

There's a brittle, try-too-hard over-familiarity to Isaac's Blanche, who holds on to every snobbish fantasy she can grab hold of to survive. In the end it's too much, as Pippa Murphy's low-slung jazz score makes clear when it takes discordant little skitters that accompany the outer edges of Blanche's mind.

In terms of the play's fragility, Emans just about gets away with it, even if there are moments when things threaten to teeter and totter into hysteria. What is crystal here, however, is just how much Blanche has been abused by men, even as she trades on the diminishing returns of her sexuality. Whatever happened to her in the past, when she and Stanley tear verbal chunks out of each other, they both sport wedding night outfits long past their sell-by date. As they succumb to the inevitable, it doesn't look like she goes willingly. As Blanche is carted off to hospital, leaving Stella a post-natal mess, the men nonchalantly play cards. It's a gross portrait of everyday misogyny in a world full of strangers who are far more cruel than they are kind.