A Streetcar
Odéon – Théâtre de l’Europe @ Festival Theatre
8:00pm, Wed 14 Mar 2012
Ever since my mistake earlier in the year, I’ve been doing the Right Thing and turning my phone off during performances. As I’m leaving the previous show, I turn the phone back on to receive a flurry of increasingly agitated messages from my Buddy for A Streetcar. My plans for a comfortable migration to the Festival Theatre get dismissed; I grab the first cab I can. When we meet, it’s an emotional mauling; she elects to stay for the performance, but we’re both pretty frayed and fragile as the house lights drop.
It’s a challenging opening as the much-vaunted Isabella Huppert is spotlit and pulls faces, weeps, and splutters her lines in what feels like a full-frontal assault… but it’s hard to tell, because there’s clearly opening-night problems with the surtitles. They’re already a bit awkward for us down the front to see, but they’re clearly out of sync (with a mouse pointer evident on one side of the screen), poorly paced (two full lines of text flitting by in half-a-second), and – worst of all – very poorly contrasted.
My Buddy whispers in my ear: “I can’t read anything. This isn’t working.” She leaves, and the fractures open up a little wider.
I hold my ground.
What I subsequently sat through was allegedly based on A Streetcar Named Desire; my vague recollection of the play suggests that the plot is loosely followed, but a lot of the subtle tone was lost. Where class disparity was significant before, the modern setting makes that far less significant; whilst Stanley’s physical and emotional abuse of Stella is still present, it’s lost amidst the almost frigid delivery of those moments.
In retrospect, that was particularly odd: most other pivotal scenes seemed to receive special treatment by director Krzysztof Warlikowski – some unique staging, or some camera setup and projection – to give the scenes some added significance, some pop; but, as a result, character progression is given almost laid-back and lazy treatment. And there are the absolutely inexplicable production decisions: that song kicking in, volume and tone well in excess of anything else in the production. And that scrolling wall of incongruous text that covered the entire stage for five fucking minutes while a shit song was played…
In all fairness, there’s some really strong high-points in A Streetcar: the staging is fantastic, with huge chunks of the set travelling back and forth between scenes, with cameras and translucent screens forming spaces and abstractions that are really quite ingenious. Huppert deserves all the plaudits that preceded her performance; after the foreshadowing opener, Blanche’s mental decline is wonderfully mapped out. But the odd treatment of the source material, in conjunction with the cold detached delivery and surtitle issues, had me walking away from the Festival Theatre very… well, empty. Disappointed.
And I’m pretty sure my malaise wasn’t entirely due to the emotional fracas beforehand; this was billed as a flagship show, but it failed to deliver a coherent experience.