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By Stephanie Vizard
Sarah Ventress, the producer of Streetcar says it is her job to “make it look as if everything is going smoothly”. Though upon meeting the cast and the director, it doesn’t seem as if there is that much stress to disguise. The play has almost sold out, rehearsals are going well and as James Corrigan, who is playing Stanley, puts it “everything has been really chilled”.
Streetcar of course being A Streetcar Named Desire, the famous Pulitzer Prize winning play turned Academy Award grabbing film about the relationship between Blanche DuBois, her sister Stella and Stella’s husband Stanley, set in the French Quarter of New Orleans. The original casts on Broadway and the West End included such luminaries as Marlon Brando, Jessica Tandy and Vivien Leigh.
So how does an Oxford student production attempt to compete with this glorious history? Anna Hextall, the director, believes that “you can’t let it swallow you up”. This seems to be universally agreed upon by the cast. Whilst all know that 2800 tickets have been sold with a week still to go, everyone just wants to get on with rehearsals.
Anna promises that this will be a classic version of the play. “I decided not to try a radical interpretation. Though in some ways there is more pressure doing a straight production, there is a new, creative pressure to focus on characters”. This can be seen in the scenes being rehearsed. The performances are vibrant and energetic. Ruby Thomas as Blanche is seductively fragile, with her husky southern drawl and James Corrigan as Stanley is powerful and manly.
Whilst these rehearsals have only been going on for five weeks, Oxford’s Streetcar has been nine months in the making. And what overwhelmingly comes across when speaking to the production team is that these have been nine months characterised by professionalism. The production’s trailer was shot in a London alleyway with a professional filming team whom Anna, who is also interested in film-making, met over summer. A dialect coach was brought in to help finesse the cast’s American accents. All the cast and crew were encouraged to research New Orleans in the 1940s and bring their findings to group discussions. James (Stanley) and Hannah Roberts (Stella) emphasise how Anna wanted the cast to forget about the uptight wintery England outside the playhouse doors and instead immerse themselves in New Orlean’s hot climate, loud noises and jazz music and melting pot of cultures. Whether all of this work will pay-off is yet to be seen but it is clear that as a first time Playhouse director and producer respectively, both Anna and Sarah have thrown everything at it.
Anna promises her naturalist interpretation of the play is to be reflected in its sets. The production team has essentially built a set that is a working house. Anna shows me some photos of the half built sets and proudly points out the real grouting on the set’s windows and the half built spiral staircase that was bought off Ebay. Famously, Marlon Brando, “who was a proper freak”, says James who is playing Brando’s legendary role, lived in the set whilst performing the role of Stanley on Broadway. Sadly, none of the cast will be moving into the Playhouse but they will have two days where as Anna puts it: “They will be let loose on the set and make it their home.”
With only a week to go before opening night the Streetcar team are excited rather then nervous. The cast can’t wait to play their parts, Anna wants to watch her play and Sarah looks forward to seeing a very full Playhouse. So with only 300 tickets left, I’d hurry if you want to see what is surely going to be one of the highlights of Oxford drama this year.
A Streetcar Named Desire is at The Oxford Playhouse from Wednesday 17 – Saturday 20 November 2010