Giles Woodforde reviews a new Oxford Theatre Guild production.

Blanche’s story is the stuff of which tabloid headlines are made. Growing up as a refined, virtuous beauty in Mississippi, she slides into a life fuelled by booze and sex.

No longer do men stand up to greet her when she enters a room. She’s had to be given time off from her job as a teacher because, she says, of problems with her nerves. In fact she’s been sacked for having an affair with a 17-year-old student. Trying to flee her scandal-ridden past, she fetches up on the doorstep of her sister Stella in New Orleans.

Blanche is the lead character in Tennessee Williams’s iconic 1947 play A Streetcar Named Desire. It’s a massive part, right up there with the likes of Lady Macbeth — when the play was filmed in 1951, Vivien Leigh was cast as Blanche, after both Olivia de Havilland and Bette Davis had been considered. Now Cate Field plays the role in this new Oxford Theatre Guild production.

Tensions soon rise as Field’s Blanche arrives in New Orleans. Elegantly (and ironically) dressed in white, she sticks out like a tall sore thumb in her sister Stella’s somewhat rundown neighbourhood. Utterly and completely self-centred, she becomes more and more demanding. Field skilfully endeavours to hold your sympathy for a character who becomes decidedly unlovable.

Tracey Rimell is an excellent foil as placid Stella. Even though her husband hits her, Stella continuously tries to explain to Blanche that she is happy with her lot.

Her husband Stanley Kowalski — of Polish background, as his name suggests — had a rough and tumble upbringing, and enjoys a drink or three over a game of poker. But Alexander Marks, himself an Australian, plays him as a well-scrubbed, proud American patriot, who loses his cool only when severely provoked.

Director Jessica Reilly sketches in the humid New Orleans background by having lots of locals wandering about. Sometimes these guys engage in animated, mimed, discussions of their own, which can be highly distracting.

But they come in handy when pressed into service as stagehands, executing choreographed scene changes to the accompaniment of a live jazz band: a delightful touch.

A Streetcar Named Desire
Oxford Playhouse
Until Saturday
Box office: Call 01865 305305 or visit