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A Streetcar Named Desire review at Lyric Theatre, Belfast – ‘a thoughtful and questioning production’

Aoibheann McCann and Mark Huberman in A Streetcar Named Desire at Lyric Theatre, Belfast. Photo: Johnny Frazer
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A Streetcar Named Desire requires careful handling. At its best – when the casting is cohesive, the personal chemistry crackles and the individual emotional journeys feel complete – it has a stirring, symphonic beauty.

Emma Jordan’s thoughtful, questioning production succeeds on several levels. It is orchestrated for today’s world, a world beset by gender imbalance, male domination, disdain for intellectual thought and expression, and narrow, right-wing politics.

Designer Ciaran Bagnall’s bleached and broken slats and stairways dramatically fill the stripped-back Lyric stage, creating a cage-like refuge from reality for Aoibhéann McCann’s gaunt, fluttering Blanche. Stanley and Stella Kowalski’s shabby, cramped New Orleans apartment is far removed from the splendour of Belle Reve, the plantation house where the DuBois sisters grew up.

Jordan has taken two calculated risks, in casting Blanche as a 30-year old woman, as written by Williams, and incorporating a thoroughly modern soundscape, which dilutes the steamy atmosphere of the Deep South. Blanche’s tragedy is to be broke, socially rejected and mentally burnt out at such a young age, but McCann’s nervy, overwrought characterisation begins at such a high pitch that her mounting psychological instability eventually has nowhere to go.

The sibling connection is not entirely convincing, with Meghan Tyler’s fiercely earthy interpretation flipping the production, making the emerging storyline as much about Stella as Blanche. Mark Huberman nicely underplays the brooding Stanley while Seamus O’Hara’s bashful Mitch calms McCann’s nervy delivery in a courtship scene, which should represent the last-chance saloon for two desperate middle-aged people.

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A thoroughly modern interpretation of Tennessee Williams’ masterpiece that flips the central relationship between the sisters