Old Fitz Theatre, June 7


Sheridan Harbridge’s Blanche flutters around Stanley like a moth around a flame. Hers is not a fey, winsome Blanche, but one who’ll fight and hope and dream until she is consumed. Although Harbridge’s craft is not entirely invisible early on, any sense of a flaw is obliterated by the completeness with which she makes Blanche wax and wane: wax in her lyrical ardour for refinement, tenderness and the radiance of poetry, and wane in her desperation for the kindness of strangers. Her Blanche is less sweet and more overtly manipulative in the play’s first half, and then when the lies begin to unravel, Harbridge nails us to the cross of Blanche’s despair.

Catherine Van-Davies and Sheridan Harbridge. Top: Ben O’Toole and Harbridge. Photos: Phil Erbacher.

Tennessee Williams’ masterpiece about the forked roads taken by Blanche and her younger sister Stella – one clinging to a fable of what the South once was, and one cleaving to the animal sexuality of Stanley – is brilliantly served by Alexander Berlage’s production. In the Old Fitz’s tight confines, we don’t sit dispassionately watching a play set in steamy, mid-20th-century New Orleans, we, like Blanche, actually share Stella and Stanley’s ramshackle apartment (designed by Emma White). We share the claustrophobia, we share the war zone, and we even share the heat (whether because the air-con was on the blink, or by design.)

Sheridan Harbridge. Photos: Phil Erbacher.

The play may be the tragedy of Blanche, but its fulcrum is Stella, who can bend enough to love both sister and husband sufficiently to forgive them their many sins. In a winning, open-hearted performance, Catherine Van-Davies fully reciprocates Stanley’s lust, making it credible that Stella happily plummeted down the social ladder from plantation mansion to grotty flat, all for what happens when the lights go out. Similarly, Ben O’Toole gives Stanley not only the physical presence and magnetism, but a sense of danger so real that you almost shrink back in your seat as you might from a tornado.

The three leads are ably supported by the rest of the nine-strong cast, including Josh Price as the hulking Mitch, Blanche’s suitor. White’s set has a gauzy curtain dividing bedroom from living room, which Berlage uses to conjure silhouettes, shadows, ghostly hopes and rancid dreams. Meanwhile Zac Saric’s music gives us echoes of the soothing sounds in Blanche’s head and of the more brutal world outside that mind. Stanley’s world.

Until July 1.