First published in The Times, Friday September 15 2017
The Scottish company Rapture Theatre, which specialises in revivals of classic plays, has mainly focused in the past couple of years on the great works of the American stage. After a production of Arthur Miller’s All My Sons and a triumphant imagining of Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? it was inevitable that the company, led by artistic director Michael Emans, would get around to staging Tennessee Williams’s most celebrated drama.
Rapture’s production does feature one top-notch performance: that of Gina Isaac as Blanche DuBois, the one-time Southern Belle, who has slid so far down in the world that she now lives out of a crammed trunk as she hides from the world in her sister’s New Orleans apartment. Isaac is alone among Emans’s ensemble in consistently demonstrating her flair for the undulating rhythms and rich poetry of Williams’s dialogue. All of the production’s most engaging moments arise out of Isaac’s energetic, unpredictable performance and she makes Blanche’s heart-breaking drift into insanity utterly convincing.
Pic: Richard Campbell
Isaac is also the only performer here who radiates the right amount of searing heat in the New Orleans-set play. Everyone else seems distinctly hesitant and uncertain. The most interesting aspect of Emans’s production, the casting of black actors Joseph Black and Kazeem Tosin Amore in the roles of Stanley Kowalski, Blanche’s boorish brother-in-law and nemesis, and Mitch, Stanley’s friend and potential suitor for Blanche, provides an additional layer of tension, notably as regards the building power struggle between Stanley and Blanche. Yet Emans singularly fails to explore the implications of a mixed race cast.
Undeniably, Stanley’s union with Stella (Julia Taudevin), who calls him a “pig” and “disgusting”, is fraught with self-loathing and hostility, yet there are scenes in which white characters use the N-word and speak of “coloured girls” doing housework that cause barely a flicker from the black actors.
Pic: Richard Campbell
Admittedly, the cast is not helped by Richard Evans’s cave-like two-room set, which doesn’t convey anything of the busy life of the Louisiana city’s French Quarter. Lengthy scenery changes, performed by the actors, simply draw out the running time and eat into the audience’s attention span. Where the tension should tighten up gradually, it rather ebbs and flows, along with the plausibility of some of the actors’ accents. Some of the most shocking moments in the play, including Blanche’s brutal final encounter with Stanley, appear somewhat becalmed here.
Touring Scotland until October 7. Rapturetheatre.co.uk