King Lear, but not as you’ve seen it before

running until Saturday 28th October

King Lear seems to be the Shakespearean tragedy in favour across stages this past year. Out of 5 or 6 productions I’ve seen King Lear performed 3 times now, including earlier this year at the Barbican, the disintegrating luxury and ostentation of Antony Sher’s Lear directed by Gregory Doran. Amidst this continual rebirthing of Lear’s famous falling is this Jonathan Munby directed production at Chichester’s Minerva theatre, with Sir Ian McKellen as the jewel in the crown as Lear.

At over 3 hours long the prospect of watching King Lear can require some stamina. A man speaking to a Minerva theatre employee jokingly complained before the start as to why the show was starting at 7.45pm as it meant it wouldn’t finish until after 11pm, then bracingly reminded himself, “well if Ian can do it, then we should be able to!” The role is old hat to McKellen, having played Lear before 10 years ago for an RSC production by Trevor Nunn in 2007. McKellen has spoken of wanting to speak “the lines again, at times as conversation”.  The smaller setting of the Minerva Theatre is sympathetic to this desire, whereas the RSC Trevor Nunn version was performed in large theatres, requiring lines to be emphasised that could otherwise have been more softly spoken. In the relative intimacy of the Minerva theatre McKellen’s uses the smaller space to his advantage “not to act Lear, but to be Lear” (BBC interview). McKellen’s Lear is exceptionally powerful, brought to life with those all important natural whisperings, mumblings, stumblings and meaningful facial expressions (most poignantly McKellen’s eye roll upwards at the bloody close). McKellen is extraordinary then not just in the strength of crumbling into madness and loss night after night, but in the way his lines are delivered,  as if Shakespearean is a first language for him to be muttered and trailed off over yet still entirely sparkled with inventive interpretation born afresh.  If this is “probably” McKellen’s last big Shakespeare role as the BBC suggests then what a way to bid farewell to the Bard.

This is much more than a one man show though. Munby has cast loyal courtier Kent as a woman, brilliantly played by Sinéad Cusack, having reportedly stated “there aren’t enough female roles in the classical repertoire”. Regan and Goneril are given so much more than the usual evil ugly sister treatment. Kirsty Bushell is touchy-feely flirty as Regan, blowing air kisses and childishly jittery on glossy high heels. She strips down to change in one scene in front of the butler who is reminiscent in his slightly huffy attitude of the clock in Beauty and the Beast. Goneril (Dervla Kirwan) is calmer, quieter, more relatable in her grief as she watches Edmund (Damien Molony) duel. Fresh from the National Theatre’s Twelfth Night Tamara Lawrance plays a military Cordelia.

Being so close to a master in action was magic. We were a few rows back, enough to avoid being splashed by pouring rain (soon to be mixed with blood pooling on the red carpet circular stage) or clipped with a pig’s head tossed off stage, whilst being close enough to observe the storm of changing facial expressions and tiny movements. The intimacy is almost too much during the intensity of the Duke of Gloucester’s blinding scene, Regan flicking the radio on to Beggin’ by Madcon which blasts out in grim energetic satisfaction as Gloucester (Danny Webb) is held down on his chair, surrounded by hanging animal innards, and Regan dances in crazed glee, patent heels glinting. The stage is fascinating, the heavy rain fading to subsequent mist in the storm scene, players squelching across the carpet, the red carpet having been ripped open as Edgar (Jonathan Bailey) smears himself with dirt. The attention to detail keeps my interest keen. In the first scene McKellen is equipped with scissors and a paper map which he carelessly snips up, tossing pieces of Scotland and Ireland between his offspring’s husbands in a not so united misogynist kingdom, complete with a giant kingly portrait as backdrop. It is thrilling that a play as often performed as King Lear can still keep that element of reinvention and fresh meaning. There are rumours of a cinema screening, which I would very much recommend if it comes about.

 

 

 

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Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?

At Vaults theatre until 23rd September

I’ve been wanting to experience Alice’s Adventures Underground since it came to the Vaults in London Waterloo two years ago in 2015. Upon (repeatedly) browsing the website what held me back was the ‘pricy’ nature of the tickets, used as I was to £5 16-25 National Theatre steals and £15 West End seats.  This summer the time for my Alice inspired adventure finally arrived, and I would love to go back underground again.

Alice’s Adventures Underground is Les Enfants Terribles’ immersive theatrical experience. It is without a doubt the most interesting and exciting theatrical experience I have had to date.

Along with 30 or so other Wonderlanders we gathered in a room full of curious odds and ends. Book cases with books suspended half falling from their shelves, typewriters, photographs mid process pegged above our heads, letters, secret curtain covered hideaways, fascinations numerous to keep us occupied until an Alice hologram appeared, flitting from one gilt mirror to the next around the room and leading us through to fall down to Wonderland..

Upon entering Wonderland we chose Eat me or Drink me, chewing pastilles or sipping medicine bottles then edging enlarged to the Eat me door or shrinking down to the Drink me door. This splits the group in half by each person’s choice. Once through to Wonderland border control the group is split by randomly assigned playing cards. There are consequently 4 routes through Wonderland meaning each time you go an entirely new experience awaits.

My boyfriend Edward and I chose Eat me and by chance were then both placed in the same suit, Diamonds.  Edward was assigned as the Ace, because the Diamond card declared his “mother always told him he could trust people wearing glasses”. The Ace was responsible for checking all cards made it through to each room with no dawdling which would doubtless lead to execution.  So Edward was transformed by Wonderland magic into Bob the Ace, helping out Humpty Dumpty and supplying evidence in court to the Red King with a “face you can trust”, and if all went well on our mission, one we would see on a Wonderland stamp in the near future. I meanwhile was “not to be trusted”, my claim to fame being used repeatedly as a body shield by the Red Queen against the Jabberwocky.

My highlights were many, and included wandering through a tunnel made entirely of open books (magical), and the room of doors which opened in turn to shower snow, or take a playing card (aka member of the audience) through only to become a brick wall. Memorable too was the scene with the Mock turtle, stranded with a piano and pitiful sign “will play for soup” amidst fairy lit umbrellas floating in a giant pool of underground water. And of course the chaotic tea party, the Mad Hatter dancing across the huge table with the audience sat all round, the Dormouse snug in a bucket right under my nose, repeatedly reaching out with the pot to try and catch tea sporadically spurting down the table in fountains. There were even cocktails to sip yourself in tea cups if you purchased in advance. I met Humpty Dumpty, Tweedledee and Tweedledum (in a crazed gymnast show) the Cheshire Cat, and of course the White Rabbit. You are entirely a part of Alice’s world. In one scene when making jam tarts one fellow Diamond was passed the baby (a plastic pig wrapped in a blanket) and rocked it seriously, another was ordered to peel a potato with a spoon (then told, no, use a knife).

This is theatre at its very best, an experience to make you laugh and feel excited, nervous, surprised, and utterly immersed in another world to the extent that I forgot where I was and what day it was. It is a completely unique event, perfect for an occasion (there were people there celebrating birthdays, and a hen do), or even any old unbirthday. To complete or indeed begin the experience there is a themed Wonderland bar at the close, beautifully designed by Darling and Edge, with flamingo croquet, Alice inspired drinks and a photo booth. I can’t wait to see what they do next.

 

Technology in theatre – such stuff as dreams are made on

At the Barbican theatre until Friday 18 August 2017

As Shakespeare’s last play and one of my favourites, I was excited to see The Tempest staged with Intel’s technological genius sparking from the RSC’s magical fingertips. There has often been a parallel drawn between Prospero’s sorcery and Shakespeare’s own wordsmith wizardry, with Prospero’s abandonment of magic as a signal of Shakespeare’s impending departure from the stage. Tangled in the romance of the creativity-fuelled island where The Tempest plays out feels like very suitable territory to try out this fusion of the latest technology with theatrical performance. With such enriching potential to truly immerse audiences in modern day magic it can only be hoped that this is the first of many such collaborations.

This version of The Tempest was first seen in Stratford-Upon-Avon almost 2 years ago. It is directed by Gregory Doran and Simon Russell Beale plays Prospero. The stage is designed by Stephen Brimson Lewis and shows a wrecked ship (or just over half a wrecked ship if you sit in the very reasonably priced restricted view tickets on the left side of the stage, the first few minutes of the first scene the only moments you miss). We all know the magic of the stage is not without its hiccups, and this is endearingly evident in the performance I saw where at the point of Caliban’s (Joe Dixon’s) dramatic emergence on stage the trapdoor refused to open, causing a brief unplanned interval where black t-shirted techies ran on and off stage unable to solve the mystery. The whole thing was treated with laughter and welcome back applause by the patient audience when Caliban instead ran on from the side. Luckily the trapdoor was back up and running for standout scene with the flowery spirit’s ascension, flower projections everywhere in a floral dream of a pre-wedding scene for Miranda (Jenny Rainsford) and Ferdinand (Daniel Easton).Miranda is pleasingly androgynous sweet and comical in her amazed greeting of more men than she has ever seen before at the close of the play, with Ferdinand quickly taking her hand possessively.

The CGI is well-used, particularly in the presentation of Ariel (Mark Quartley) who is conjured on stage both in human form and as a projection, whilst in the shipwreck scene projections show bodies of men slowly sinking into the ocean. I thought it was a visually impressive and effective way of representing Ariel’s ethereal sprite form, giving him more power and stage presence than merely a bodily servant fairy doing Prospero’s bidding, and lending visual clarity to Ariel’s otherworldly association which Prospero communicates with but does not himself embody. This magical representation is reinforced as CGI reappears for the flower adorned fairies.

At the close of the play Ariel and his CGI effect magic are granted freedom and Prospero breaks his staff – he is throughout the traditional storybook picture of a wizard. We are presented with the simple power of Prospero on stage alone, no tricks but words, which after all are the heart and fabric of the play’s true magic.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Desperately seeking (interesting) beauty

Hedda Gabler. Showed until 21st March 2017 at National Theatre

When Ruth Wilson was interviewed for the Guardian someone asked:

‘I have seen Hedda Gabler three times and I’m looking to top that up with the NT Live. Never really got Ibsen before, but your interpretation of her was stunning – you have an amazing gift. Do you see a bit of Hedda in yourself, or is that a mean question?’

Ms Wilson replied:

‘It’s a bit of a mean question, because she’s not a very nice person, but yes, I do see a bit of myself in Hedda. I see a bit of myself in all my roles. I think she’s quite funny, but that’s my weird brain. I understand the frustration of feeling deeply and people not understanding you, and I get deeply frustrated at times – but I would never make the choices she makes. I hope I wouldn’t find myself in that situation – trapped in something I despised.’

The frustration of feeling deeply and not bring understood can feel exacerbated a hundredfold in a world which prominently parades Trump lack of brain cells and legs-it Brexit. There are so many things large and small to be angry and frustrated by, so many everyday inequalities and injustices, that occasionally it can feel difficult and exhausting just to deal with the emotion provoked. Maybe this is why I loved Ruth Wilson interpretation of Hedda Gabler so much.

Hedda has married an academic, Kyle Soller’s Tesman, afraid that she is losing the bloom of her youth and needing to settle down, tiring of her “chaotic” life.  She is restless, unhappy in her married life, will surely “die of boredom” with her husband the “assistant”. Ruth Wilson bringing the humour here in her heavily sardonic lines. Hedda lives in a house she never loved, although claimed to falsely in a rare moment of pity for the romantic knots Tesman found himself in, leading to engagement, wedding, honeymoon and “whatever hell lies after”. Academics are boring, she exclaims, she has no time for her husband’s papers and interests, the parties she was promised are postponed as the couple find themselves in debt from their extravagance. And although she may or may not be pregnant, it’s clear Hedda is not feeling maternal: “I don’t want to make something that makes demands” she retorts, capturing that the concept of motherhood for her is a depressing continuum of need and unfulfilled want. She throws continual sarcasm and teasing criticism at her husband who shakes it off with the occasionally bewildered air of a dampened dog.

Gabler is Hedda’s father’s name, and she is characterised as her dead father’s daughter much more so than her husband’s wife.  She keeps his pistols on display and likes shooting into clear blue skies. As she holds the pistol up to the audience and to what turns out to be her former lover we brace ourselves for the shot and the jump. Hedda seems a girl craving secret knowledge, like the power of tempting back alcoholism which she wields over ex-lover Chukwudi Iwuji ‘s Lovborg in glee.

“Well, if there was an award for best use of tomato juice! that would win it” I overheard a man share jovially as he left the theatre. He is referring to an awful scene towards the close of the play between Ruth Wilson’s Hedda Gabler and Rafe Spall’s Judge Brack in which Hedda is painfully degraded and humiliated with calmly brutal ease by the judge. My position a few rows from the front made it even more uncomfortable to watch up close this complete crushing of Hedda’s fragile character. It is a secret scene shared only with us, the helpless bystanders as the audience. There is something horrible about watching a torment that you are powerless to intervene in, particularly when it feels like a performance and enactment of forces at play in the very real world, leading to a tragic action driven by a feeling of complete hopelessness which is actively enforced and encouraged by another person (or persons – is it a suicide pact?). In a way that is quite rare for my experience of this kind of theatre I really understand how we reach the final scene. It feels like Hedda’s desperate last grasp at reclaiming beauty for herself following others (like Lovborg’s) failure to provide it for her.

This yearning for beauty is striking too in Hedda’s fit of activity in an early scene as she scrambles around the stage stapling flowers to the wall, an attempt at making her home environment beautiful which is temporal from the beginning. The flowers droop and fade, the only other decoration two pistols on the wall. Flicking the blinds back and forth in a bored frenzy as golden light filters through them, Ruth Wilson’s Hedda is much like a caged wild animal. She paces restlessly barefoot around the room, yet with a grace and presence that makes the nightgown she wears seem like an evening dress in those moments she makes the effort to be appealing.

The play is entrancing and Ruth Wilson is exceptionally and without doubt at the heart of and the highlight of this production, every bit as mesmerising as I thought she would be from watching her plucky Jane in the BBC’s Jane Eyre and her shiny-eyed intriguing entirely unpredictable psychopath Alice in Luther. She entirely deserved the Olivier nomination for Best Actress. This is Ivo van Hove’s National Theatre debut and it was my (if depressing) theatrical highlight of the first quarter of 2017. And not just because the tomato juice.

 

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead: “Life is a gamble, at terrible odds. If it were a bet you wouldn’t take it.”

At the Old Vic until Saturday 29th April 2017

**** (4 stars)

As much as I love a moment of quiet contemplation, there is something awful to me about a forced focus on the inescapable factuality of one’s own mortality. This is of course a recurring theme of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. The clue is in the title really. In this 50th anniversary celebration directed by David Leveaux Daniel Radcliffe is Rosencrantz and Joshua McGuire Guildenstern. Both are brilliant, balancing the play’s bleak introspection, mostly delivered by Radcliffe, with a sparky Chuckle Brothers cluelessness.  Death is not being – it is being trapped in a box without any awareness, not asleep, not awake. Could it even be being trapped on a boat on route to England, with nowhere to go? The slip into humour in this particular musing characterises the duality which is at the heart throughout: “Life in a box is better than no life at all, I expect. You’d have a chance at least. You could lie there thinking: Well, at least I’m not dead.” Daniel Radcliffe also delivers the lines which ask, at what point as children do we have the shattering realisation that we must die? Rosencrantz does not himself remember having such a horrible thought.  We are then born with the intuition that we are mortal, with the knowledge “there’s only one direction and time is its only measure.” It is a recurring joke that Radcliffe’s character’s memory is rather hopeless – he can’t remember what happened the morning they received the royal summons, what he has been instructed to do, his name even. He is comically slow to catch on to his relatively quicker witted counterpart’s suggestions (“you’re quicker than your friend”, the Player declares, as he tries to squeeze gold out of the pair for a performance when they first meet on the road). David Haigh as the Player is my favourite, a confident thespian with a powerful assertiveness  herding and directing his unruly, underpaid mishmash of players, cajoling attractive female substitute Alfred  in and out of his skirt on demand and bellowing “I need to learn my lines” at McGuire’s waffle.

As the players act out the bloodbath at the end of Hamlet, slumped in a pile neat leftovers from the previous scene, the macabre music reminds me a little of The Threepenny Opera. They finish with a dramatic flourish to be proud of, shadows cast against the white curtain – closing as creepy shadow puppets, fading figments of a performance, to die and be reborn in new roles. The best actors play dead over and over. The Player acts out his own death in fact and bursts back to life amidst jumps and surprise (“you had me fooled”). The players act out the tragedy in silent, brilliantly lit drama – it gets even better when the lights are cut for the Player to make a point to his audience, the spectacle mocked as things get a bit too frisky between Gertrude and the King. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern stand beneath the players acting out their own deaths. It is painful seeing them observe the pair’s collapse into sacks. Then the next scene opens with them waking in the very same spot. Death is guaranteed for them from the beginning, the royal summons and subsequent actions arbitrary: “there must have been a moment, at the beginning, where we could have said no. But somehow we missed it”.

As well as black intensity there are moments of for me much needed comedy, still intertwined with death mostly of  course. Seeing Hamlet dragging Polonius off to bury, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern excitedly form a barrier with their belts, determined not to let their ‘friend’ pass and instead to halt him in his tracks and demand explanation. They are completely unnoticed by Hamlet who neatly turns off the stage and entirely evades them. “Look on every exit as being an entrance somewhere else” Stoppard says. This play is itself a new window presenting Hamlet from the perspective of two peripheral characters who are interchangeable even to each other, exchanging names and directions with ease.  Radcliffe’s matter of fact humour makes me chuckle (Guildenstern: “You can’t not be on a boat” Rosencrantz: “I’ve frequently not been on boats”). England is a “conspiracy of cartographers” and  Hamlet could be “stark raving sane”.

Anna Fleischle’s design certainly makes the most of the Old Vic’s cavernous space. The set of painted clouds makes me feel it could all be a bit of a dream even as the actors bow and Radcliffe neatly retrieves roses thrown on stage, while Harry Potter fans queue down the road in hope of signatures. Time may be moving forward in the only direction it knows but the stage is also shaped by the magic that has come before,  the play itself performed on the very same stage 50 years ago.

 

 

 

Dream Girls Will Never Leave You

At the Savoy theatre, until 6th May 2017

NOMINATED FOR BEST NEW MUSICAL, OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT IN MUSIC (HENRY KRIEGER), BEST ACTRESS IN A MUSICAL (AMBER RILEY) AND BEST ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE IN A MUSICAL (ADAM J BERNARD) – OLIVIER AWARDS 2017

I saw Dream Girls before Christmas and the sparkle of the Broadway musical’s UK premiere  seems an equally suitable antidote to any 2017 final dregs of winter gloom. The glitter and gleam of the onstage dresses, suits, superstar smiles, stage curtains and dancing lights combined with the beauty of the Savoy theatre are visually delighting and a treat for my magpie eye (thank you set designer Tim Hatley and Gregg Barnes for the costumes). What really adds the true sparkle of course are the musical performances. Those familiar with the 2006 film adaptation, starring Jennifer Hudson as Effie and Beyonce as Deena, will be tapping their feet along as we flit from dressing rooms to stages in an ever energetic dash to stardom. What started as a Broadway show 35 years ago is I think overdue a turn at the West End.

Glee graduate Amber Riley is stunning as Effie, her vocals effortlessly, powerfully brilliant. Together with Liisi LaFontaine as Deena and Ibinabo Jack as Lorrell they make up the trio of aspiring music stars, thought to be based on Diana Ross and The Supremes. Adam J Bernard as Jimmy throws in comic quips While Tyrone Huntley offers a helping of family sincerity as C. C. White.

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Interpretations vary from the film. Personally I was initially thrown by the new take on Listen, which is significantly altered from Beyonce’s version written for the film. This version is my favourite of the soundtrack as the character asserts herself and chooses to find her own way and make her own choices instead of sacrificing them for Curtis’s (played onstage by Joe Aarson Reid) preferences and possessiveness:

“the time has come for my dreams to be heard, They will not be pushed aside and turned, Into your own, all ’cause you won’t listen… I’ve tried and tried, To say what’s on my mind, You should have known, Now I’m done believing you, You don’t know what I’m feeling, I’m more than what, You’ve made of me, I followed the voice, you gave to me, But now I’ve got to find my own”

Although my ears wanted to hear this version it was still possible to enjoy the musical’s reimagining in its own right and context as part of the stageplay. Similarly And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going lacks a little of the defiant attitude of Jennifer Hudson’s version and is at times breathless with a tearful begging desperation which is not quite as satisfying. The promise “you’re going to love me” to her audience and fans however remains a gutsy and entirely accurate assertion.

Casey Nicholaw’s production is full of energy, colour and wonderful noise. The struggle for racial equality in the music business and it’s part within the American black civil rights movement isn’t given much attention, taking a little potential depth away, but this is a feel good, glitzy night out with the girls which will have you humming all the way home.

 

I want magic! Maxine Peake certainly gave us plenty in Streetcar Named Desire (at the Royal Exchange until Saturday 15 October 2016)

Sarah Frankcom took over as director at the Royal Exchange in 2014. Her collaboration with Maxine Peake as Hamlet is probably most well-known. Peake’s Masque of Anarchy performance for the anniversary of Waterloo, and in The Skriker last summer, are also both memorable for me, not least out of admiration for Maxine Peake’s powerfully moving performance in a chapel full of candles which had me fainting away with the heat and bustle of watchers. Whilst I perhaps am not one of those physically strong, hardy women comfortably able to deal with adverse physical conditions with no problems, I got the feeling Maxine was – she was tough, unafraid, a direct, straight-talking realist taken to the stage and the most unlikely person to faint away at a few too many candles and gentle shoves. So it was initially a surprise to hear she was playing famously feminine and fragile Blanche. An exciting surprise, obviously, and one I quickly booked to experience.

In Streetcar Maxine Peake proved with the greatest ease, not that it really needed proving, that yes she is a hell of an actress and yes she really can tackle anything. In Sarah Frankcom’s interview with the Guardian she describes Streetcar as “a very scary play” but that it’s “good to scare yourself”. It’s clear from the range of roles Maxine Peake has taken on that she too is unafraid of a challenge. Evidently scary is good as this is by far my favourite yet of the pair’s productions.

Maxine Peake makes a glamorous Blanche, complete with short blonde curls and dark sunglasses she arrives in town as Stella’s (Sharon Duncan Brewster’s) well-dressed sister from Mississippi. Nothing is quite as it seems though. Blanche is like a magpie, her interest in lover Mitch (Youssef Kerkour) sparked by the gleam of his silver cigarette case. Blanche’s suitcase gives the desired impression of money and taste – emptied full of glitter, fur, sequinned or floral dresses, a heart shaped velvet jewellery box dangling strings of imitation pearls and gold bangles. The fur stole is a long ago gift, the accessories inexpensive, costume jewellery. Not so to dim-witted suspicious Stanley of course (Stella’s husband, superbly played by Ben Batt), to whom a sparkly dress is “solid gold” in its shine. “This is the money from your plantation” he insists to Stella. “Money just goes… places” Blanche offers vaguely, but honestly. Evidently she is not much of a saver. The stage set for the Kowalski’s home is like a budget Sims house with the walls collapsed and fluorescent floor lights acting as wall divides. As a horrified Blanche repeats, there are only 2 rooms. It’s easy to believe the two are sisters from their fierce care and continual needling of each other.

Blanche dislikes harsh, bare light, dressing the light bulb in her room with a lantern, and choosing to meet Mitch in the flattering dusk of evening light. She shies away from full, unforgiving illuminations of her face and continually frets that she is “losing her looks”. Her age is eternally 21 on her birthday cake. “Soft people have to shine and glow” she says, and such shimmering is something that seems harder to Blanche with age. This and her demand for magic rather than reality suggests a show, an act, a forced glitter and floatiness that is really a façade for something unseen. Maxine Peake does give Blanche a hidden grittiness. We see a transparent attempt at secrecy in the alcohol addiction Blanche nurses. She claims “one is my limit” to Stella, having just neatly necked a shot of whisky upon arrival. The cover slips easily and the story changes – later in conversation with Mitch after a night out the limit is “two”. Perhaps what makes Maxine Peake’s Blanche special is her ability to effortlessly deliver to us a Blanche who is genuinely mixed and unstraightforward. She starts off the play as a sort of survivor who is hyper critical of her surroundings and sister’s life choices to protect herself and her own vulnerability. She is not just a woman off the rails and dominated by addiction, to be pitied and ignored, but presents a challenge of morality and fabrication to unravel – what is untruth and what is real – whatever it is Peake’s Blanche is a character you entirely believe in.

Blanche is not the only character in the play who is performing. Mitch seems sensitive and sweet at first, even if his proposal does whiff of desperation rather than romance: “You and I both need someone. Maybe we could be that person to each other.” These are lines which conjure a relationship of necessity based on an indiscriminate need for some sort of constant human company, rather than something more romantically specific. When he later dismisses Blanche as “not clean” enough to bring back to his mother that is the brutal end of that. And then of course there is Stanley. His brutal strength is also veiled, and even when open for all to see it can still be ignored. The loud noise of Blanche’s music sends Stanley into a furiously well-acted frenzy, glimpses of a brutal bestiary glaring through, in reaction to a strength and threat he sees in Blanche, cannot understand and so tries to quash with violence and even rape.

According to Frankcom Blanche is “one of the most iconic female characters,  and yet the great danger is she’s seen as just another bad, mad, sad woman – what do I see in it that might be different?” What seems to characterise the play for me is Blanche’s cry: “I want magic”. Magic is transformative, it makes possible things that are otherwise impossible and unachievable, it turns pumpkins into carriages and mice into horsemen and showers you with every possible something you could imagine. Blanche creates her own sort of magic with her own illumination of the world, an interpretation which is not always in line with other people’s moral standards. To see her taken away to an asylum at the end feels very real and heart-breaking. The magic is broken, the spell is over and the audience awakes from an American dream delusion into a hungover and confused reality.