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A Streetcar Named Desire Review | Royal Exchange | Manchester

Who knew a descent into madness could be leveled with humor?

Manchester’s Royal Exchange welcomes Maxine Peake back with open arms. After playing the lead in 2015’s Hamlet, Peake has returned as the equally convincing and beaten down Blanche in A Streetcar Named Desire.

Blanche arrives in New Orleans to stay with her younger, pregnant sister Stella and her partner Stanley. Stella’s squalid one-bedroom apartment is a love shack in her eyes but a distressing downgrade to Blanche who is used to her and her sister picking the finer things in life.

Fortunately, nowadays Blanche lives mostly in her head, and the lack of space is only an issue for her brother-in-law, whose presence helps bring Blanche back to the reality of her current situation.

Stella’s sparse apartment is depicted onstage with two mattresses, a mini fridge fixed with gin and a bathroom separated off by a sheet of two-toned glass. The panel is often used to reflect Stella’s polished persona to the audience as she preens herself and unwinds in the bath. However, the glass also clears to reveal her demons, and fantasies as they walk amongst the audience as unsettling and tangible characters.

Director, Sarah Frankcom allows the audience to have a direct connection to Blanche. The events are generally viewed through her eyes, with the cramped, unpolished conditions mirroring the intense visions in her head. The cast mainly feature as props to sustain Blanche's fantasies. However, Blanche’s sister, played by Sharon Duncan-Brewster and Ben Batt (Stanley) have an intriguing rapport which helps to convince the audience of Brewster’s conflicting love for both her sister husband.

Although the dresses are modern, the southern accent remains in this tender retelling of Streetcar. It is visually haunting and delicately cast production that will leave a lasting impression on its audience.

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