The film is of course iconic so director Abi Smith had a tough job ahead of her. Whilst there are touches from the film, the general atmosphere is different. She makes more of the rough turbulent undercurrents in the play, which without a glossy Hollywood budget is a good choice. Everyone is a predator, whether intentionally as in the case of Stanley (Robert Boulton) or out of despair as with Blanche, who arrives in the neighbourhood with a voice that drips of Deep Southern hospitality (a concept which will come to mean a rather different thing later on).
So what's a girl like her doing a place like this? Meeting her sister of course, Stella (Kirsten Peacock) who's given up the world of the Old South to shack up with rough slob Stanley. Peacock's face-off with Hicks, as Stella smugly tells Blanche about her hot hubby, is great. Her accent slips a little in the second half when she shows more of her vulnerable side- the balance between strong sexually independant woman and selfish deluded punchbag works well.
She really is a punchbag as well. The tendency with some student productions is to sanitise the sex and violence but Stanley lives up to the wifebeater vest he sports. Marlon Brando in a wifebeater vest is the image that comes to mind when anyone mentions A Streetcar Named Desire so Boulton had a tough job. He succeeds though, going for a different type of roughness from Brando: a slobbish brute who is clearly far from the glamorous piece of rough that Blanche sees him as. Removing the glossy sex appeal makes Stanley's moments of violence far more unsettling, as we are never sure whether he will kiss or kill. That thrill, described by Stella as his main attraction, is how Boulton conveys sex appeal.
Hicks' first speeches as Blanche can be hard to follow as Blanche is nervy and flustered at this point but once the disguise wears off and we see the real Blanche underneath, Hicks really comes into her own. The turning point for me was the scene with the paperboy: a very chilling portrayal of a predatory woman. Blanche's self-destructiveness is pefectly portrayed; she does not want Stanley purely because he is attractive but because she is addicted to self-destruction and he is the ultimate destroyer. In her tender moments with nervous suitor Mitch (Liam Horrigan) she seems genuinely conflicted between her desire for simple goodness and her path of self-destruction. Horrigan provides the simple tenderness Blanche is looking for but also shows Mitch to be vulnerable and a little simple-minded, adding more complexity to Mitch and Blanche's relationship.
This production might have less of the poetry and romance associated with Tennessee Williams but the removal of rose-tinted glasses shows the play to be much darker than memory might lead you to believe.