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The Kindness of Strangers at Canal Cafe Theatre

A Streetcar Named Desire might just happen to be on the minds of regular theatregoers in London at the time of writing, on account of the Almeida Theatre’s production which has secured a West End transfer. In this play, firmly in the realm of drama about drama, something of a crisis has arisen. This is, for those who work in the industry, nothing new: one of these days someone will put on a show that is entirely about various dilemmas and predicaments faced by unforeseen circumstances. But for now, in The Kindness of Strangers, the board of directors of a trailblazing theatre wants their artistic director, Candie Woodley (Esmée Cook) to take an already re-imagined production of A Streetcar Named Desire and take it in a substantially different direction. It’s a demand, rather than a polite request for consideration.

The Kidness of StrangersThe assistant producer, Lea Celeste (Andrea Gatchalian) has reservations, although Woodley is determined to make it work. It’s not entirely clear exactly what is at stake, as the audience is exposed to just Woodley’s side of a conference call, and neither are the consequences divulged in full to the show’s director, Pierce Mitchell (Nathaniel Brimmer-Beller), who comes away from a subsequent meeting with the producers as perplexed as could be reasonably expected as to what is really going on, but nonetheless willing to look again at the script and see what might be done.

If Celeste over-explains the reasons why the proposed changes to the show aren’t going to look good for the venue or the production, it’s because Woodley can’t see the wood for the trees, whilst also – I presume – making the implications clear to members of the audience who haven’t seen Streetcar (whether the film version or the stage production, or both). Woodley talks about having a clear vision, but it ends up being as clear as mud, and she makes at least one faux pas in her pitch to Mitchell, who remains level-headed despite some erratic behaviours exhibited by both producers.

Asked if he had ever seen a gay actor play Stanley Kowalski in Streetcar, Mitchell coolly replies that on the balance of probabilities, given that they’re talking about the theatre, he probably has. At face value, the whole situation is preposterous – why would a theatre set about re-revising a play from decades ago to fit a contemporary agenda when it could champion an entirely new play instead? But this seems to be, however, this production’s (that is, The Kindness of Strangers) line of argument: there are ideas that receive funding and are turned into full productions, even though the ideas are less than brilliant, and there are ideas that are resonant and relevant, but don’t tickle the ears of investors, and don’t end up being staged.

It’s not made clear whether the wacky ideas for this leftfield production of Streetcar were fully realised after all, which will please punters who like to have something to think about and/or discuss after the show. There are some pertinent questions raised about how much a creative team should be willing to compromise, and there aren’t any straightforward answers. (Oh, and a technical hitch at the performance I attended led to some hilarious ad-libs.) It could in parts, despite a running time of just under an hour, be pacier still. That said, a mischievous sense of humour permeates this thoughtful play, with engaging performances from a committed cast.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Black Bat Productions presents another biting satire of the contemporary entertainment world.

An ambitious new production of A Streetcar Named Desire runs into calamitous trouble when the show’s mixed-race casting falls out of favour.

Following critically acclaimed runs of the Edinburgh Fringe sell-out show Press (★★★★★ “Genius” – Broadway Baby), and the premiere of the elegantly twisty new play Nines last year, writer Nathaniel Brimmer-Beller returns to the Canal Café Theatre with The Kindness of Strangers, a three-hander about what it takes to stay relevant in our modern theatre landscape.

At a prestigious London theatre, the stage is set for an ambitious reimagining of Tennessee Williams’ classic A Streetcar Named Desire – rising star director Pierce Mitchell has dug into the racial undertones of the original to craft an incisive new vision. However, the theatre’s board have instructed Candie Woodley, the Artistic Director who made it all possible, to force Pierce in a new direction that better suits the topics they think audiences care about. Caught in the middle, Candie must enlist the help of her number-two, Lea Celeste, and concoct a solution at the last minute.

Writer: Nathaniel Brimmer-Beller
Directors: Nathaniel Brimmer-Beller & Michael Zwiauer
Performers: Esmée Cook, Andrea Gatchalian, Nathaniel Brimmer-Beller

The Kindness of Strangers
Thursday 2nd – Saturday 4th February


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