Wednesday 16 October 2019

A Blanche DuBois for today and possibly tomorrow, too

A Streetcar Named Desire

Lyric Theatre, Belfast  Until May 25

Iconic female character: Aoibhéann McCann as Blanche DuBois with Seamus O’Hara as Mitch
Iconic female character: Aoibhéann McCann as Blanche DuBois with Seamus O’Hara as Mitch

Tennessee Williams' 1947 play is an enduring favourite. Schoolteacher Blanche comes to her sister Stella's tiny apartment in New Orleans, having lost their big-house homeplace in Mississippi to the banks. Pregnant Stella is happy to see her, but the personality clash with husband Stanley is immediate. Jobless and penniless, Blanche has one last throw of the dice in an attempt to bargain her looks and breeding for the security of marriage.

Vivien Leigh's performance in the 1951 film version has dominated the public sense of this iconic female character. Aoibhéann McCann wisely does her own thing, establishing Blanche with a firm, snobbish sense of superiority from the off. The cracking up, when it comes, is thus the breaking of a strong woman, rather than the shattering of a fragile psyche. It works tremendously well.

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Meghan Tyler is an assertive, sensuous Stella. She is single-minded in pursuit of her carnal desires.

Mark Huberman is a low-key Stanley, small-minded and angry. He is in no way romanticised and never invites much sympathy. Seamus O'Hara as Mitch plays up the gentle side of this beta male, making him a credible prospect for Blanche, and thus his loss has real sting.

Set and lighting designer Ciaran Bagnall creates a traditional set, with a staircase to the apartment above, and a split-level interior. The framing is coloured white with a whiff of Southern French colonial architecture.

Enda Kenny's costumes are stunning, with Blanche's dresses so replete with Southern grandeur as to be almost weaponised.

Bagnall's dramatic lighting adds plenty of tension, too; there is a bank of lights positioned stage left that dazzle and dim. In a play that is so much about light, and exposing things to light, this is a crucial dramatic element.

Emma Jordan brings much of the contemporary moment to her direction. There is a sense that this Blanche could be well able for Stanley, and that her feminine powers are indeed a formidable strength. But finally, what undoes her is the superior physical force of the male; he can simply manhandle her. Her cleverness, her guile, her ability to manipulate are of no use when they encounter superior brute force.

But this Blanche you could see recovering. There is so much inner strength there, you could see her emerging out the other side. Crazy for now, but maybe not forever. Blanche DuBois is a woman with a past, but in Jordan's canny production, she might conceivably have a future, too.


Thrilling night of dance innovation

Session Abbey Theatre, Dublin Dance Festival Run concluded

Katy Hayes

Irish dance artist Colin Dunne, Flemish-Moroccan dancer and choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, composer Michael Gallen and musician Soumik Datta conjure a dynamic energy in this innovative show that is brim-full of masculine energy. The dancers are to the fore, but each artist's presence is vital to the outcome.

The sound of a tap shoe has always been part of the energy of traditional Irish step dancing, but here it is amplified and mixed with other sounds: limbs swish and hands slap to create another aural layer adjacent to, but distinct from, the music.

Memorable set pieces include: Dunne performing on a small card-table-sized surface, while the others impede/augment his dancing with their hands; Cherkaoui dances a funny patient on a psychiatrist's couch. A comical duet was particularly striking, where the difference between the two dancers' styles was exaggerated as they performed identical steps. Cherkaoi's body has the free-form energy of modern dance. Dunne derives tension and power from the traditional Irish ramrod.

The show is book-ended by the four men singing in harmony, funny songs that articulate the themes. A thrilling night of dance innovation, experiment and general delight.

Katy Hayes

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