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“I Don’t Want Realism . . . I Want Magic”

3 September 2009

Unfortunately, that’s not what I got.

On Tuesday night, we went to the first preview of Streetcar Named Desire at the Sydney Theatre Company.  With Cate Blanchett playing Blanche and Liv Ullman directing, this is the “must see” performance of 2009.  It’s been sold out for months. 

Cate is, in my opinion, the best actress of her generation.  And her performance was extraordinarily good.  Joel Edgerton, as Stanley, was excellent.  The rest of the cast can only be described as lacklustre.  Which makes the performances of Cate and Joel even more impressive . . . they had an uphill battle from the moment they stepped on stage.

First problem – extremely difficult to hear what people were saying but I suppose that can only be blamed on the acoustics.  I wouldn’t want to be the one to criticise their projection skils! 

Second problem – accents.  If performances are great, actors only need to hint at an accent to convince the audience.  The performance of the actress who played Stella (Robin McLeavy) can only be described as ordinary and her accent bugged me from the minute she opened her mouth.  It bore no resemblance to Blanche’s, her sister, and wandered into Irish a couple of times.  A bit-part player sounded as though they’d just picked him up from the streets of Sydney. 

Third problem – set.  I’m often struck by the wonderful inventiveness that goes into creating sets on stage.  The way these people deal with the problems of inside and outside scenes etc.  This one was created in rather a messy fashion with the cast weaving in and out of a staircase to get into the house. 

Fourth problem (and the most important) – energy, or rather lack of it.  I did wonder if I was the only person who found it a bit boring but then I noticed that the couple in front of me were nearly asleep and the theatre became quite noisy with the audience constantly moving around in their seats.  The applause at the end was generous but there was no buzz of excitement as we left the theatre. 

I love the theatre and was really expecting this to be one of those magical events.  But I’ve seen much better performances in theatres both here and in London.  Plays where I don’t move a muscle as I’m so entranced with what’s going on on stage.  Plays that stick in my mind for days afterwards.  Plays that I’ve seen two or three times – I went 3 times in London to see Amadeus for instance (with Frank Finlay) and twice to see Whose Life Is It Anyway?  (with Tom Conte).  I hate to be so harsh but this was not one of those events.

Last night, at the second performance, Cate was hit in the head by a radio that Joel threw across the stage.  At the performance we attended, it shot out of the window.  Last night it apparently knocked her to the ground and the performance had to be cancelled.  I hope she’s recovered today and will be back on stage tonight. 

I’d really like to hear that as the performances continue, they improve.  Do let me know if you see it and what YOU thought.

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