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Rapture Theatre gears up for Streetcar Named Desire 70th anniversary tour

A Streetcar Named Desire cast

This autumn, Rapture Theatre’s new production of the iconic American masterpiece, Streetcar Named Desire, will transport Scottish audiences to the sultry surroundings of New Orleans.

A Pulitzer-prize-winning play by Tennessee Williams, Streetcar was immortalised in film by Marlon Brando and Vivien Leigh. This new production, featuring a cast of ten top class performers and under Michael Emans’ direction, follows swiftly on his critical and popular success earlier this year with Rapture’s Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?

The staging is particularly timely, considering that 2017 marks the 70th anniversary of the play's original production. We caught up with the team to find out more about their production. Rapture Theatre is one of Creative Scotland's Regularly Funded Organisations (2015-2018).

Your company recently took on Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. Now you’re moving on to Streetcar – is it daunting taking on such well-loved plays?

Every play has its own challenges and Streetcar is no different in that respect. However, by focusing on the central themes of the play - race, gender, class, power relationships, perceptions of reality – which transcend the domestic setting, we have created a production which is colourful, timeless and relevant to modern audiences. The eternal significance of these themes motivates us to create exciting theatre and stops the task from becoming overwhelming.

Streetcar is 70 years old. What do you think it is about that play that has given it such staying power?

Much of the power of the play lies in the emotional impact it has on audiences the first time they see it. That’s why people want to see it again and again. The play (and of course, the film, starring Marlon Brando and Vivienne Leigh) is resonant because it is so truthfully reflects reality. It draws on deep human emotions fearlessly, and confronts us with truths we are more comfortable avoiding. We genuinely care about these characters because of their complexity – none is either all good or all bad. We recognise their human fragility and relate to them more strongly because of that.

What approach has your company taken to staging this production, with regard to bringing out the themes in the play?

As always, we worked closely with the text over a period of weeks to establish the author's intentions and discussed in depth how best to interpret these within a modern context for a contemporary audience.

In the case of Streetcar, key decisions involved an innovative approach to casting and the use of an original, contemporary jazz/conceptual score to create the context for several of the play’s central themes. Design was deemed critical in establishing the cultural and social context of the characters as well as in creating contrasts between them, with lighting a pivotal method of underlining the key theme of the fragility of perception: the blurring of internal and external reality.

Ultimately, the play compels audiences to look into their own souls and find compassion and understanding there, rather than condemnation- Rapture Theatre

Our intention is always to aim for truthful, naturalistic performances which create convincing characters throughout, and a production which subtly conveys the powerful, eternally truthful observations of the playwright. Direction, too, is pivotal. But the hand of the director (as well as of the rest of the creative team) should always be, in our productions, deliberately invisible, controlling but not dominating the over- arching theatrical experience.

What have been the most challenging aspects so far?

There have been many challenges. One has been bringing together a diverse group of actors from a range of different theatrical backgrounds and creating a coherent piece of theatre which builds on their strengths. The technical elements dictated by the text have also been challenging, but our fight consultant, Carter Ferguson, and voice specialist Morag Stark have created wonderful results.

The play explores prodigiously significant themes within the claustrophobic confines of a small New Orleans apartment. The challenge, as a director, is to balance this contradiction in a way that allows audiences to be moved by the domestic tragedy, while appreciating the immense social and psychological significance and scope the work.

And the most rewarding?

The most rewarding aspect has undoubtedly been watching the actors’ performances grow to create a unique and exciting theatrical experience, which explores and develops the key elements of Williams' text.

The play is underscored by Pippa Murphy's fantastic, original jazz score, and highlighted by David Cunningham's evocative lighting and Richard Evans’ powerful set, and bringing together all of these different elements to create an exciting piece of theatre has been highly rewarding.

What do you hope the audience will take away?

We hope the eternal themes of Streetcar will resonate as much with audiences who have seen the play before as they will with newcomers seeing it for the first time. Ultimately, the play is a riveting emotional journey, blending the characters' perceptions of both internal and external reality, as well as exposing the uncomfortable dichotomies which remain inherent in our society.

Ultimately, the play compels audiences to look into their own souls and find compassion and understanding there rather than condemnation. If our production helps audiences to feel more connected with their world, we will have succeeded.

The Scotland-wide tour of A Streetcar Named Desire runs from Friday 1 September (preview) until Saturday 7 October 2017. More details can be found at rapturetheatre.co.uk.

This article was published on 29 Aug 2017