This wonderfully well known play by Tennessee Williams, beautifully directed by Chelsea Walker and imaginatively designed by Georgia Lowe is being toured by the English Touring Theatre and is one of the best shows I have seen this year. The characters are all quite young (not as old as I remember the film cast being!) and offer extra-ordinary depth. Blanche Dubois is the epitome of the fallen woman, the ostracised, excluded, oppressed and abused southern belle whose descent into madness is as predictable and it would be avoidable if women were treated in any other way.
The first act was a dreaded hour and a half but it honestly sped by. The audience (with a notable number of school and college students in it) were rightly captivated and drawn into the characters, their stories, their relationships and their poverty. The New Wolsey in Ipswich is a delightful theatre with an atmosphere that pulls the cast and audience close. As it becomes clear that Blanche has not had the sort of life she wishes she had, that her standing has been fatally flawed by her experiences and her tragic first marriage, we start to see our cultural echoes coming back at us. How women are blamed for their own downfall, how we are expected to hold up no matter what, how we are to compensate the men for their own shortcomings and how we are expected to love the fist that hurts us.
At the post-show talk, Kelly Gough (Blanche) surprised us all with her soft, lilting Irish accent – miles removed from her Southern drawl during the performance. She told us that she was the only person in the troupe that had not seen the film, and so was the only girl on the casting call not to mimic Vivien Leigh. Which got her the part, and which contributed hugely to what was a commanding performance.
It is touring until the end of June, so book HERE for tickets, and do yourself a favour!