Theatre interview: Illuminating truths about the “current zeitgeist”- Marcel Meyer talks about A Streetcar Named Desire, staged by Abrahamse and Meyer Productions, premiering in Cape Town, February 2022

What: A Streetcar Named Desire, by Tennessee Williams – February 2–12, 2022
Where: Artscape Theatre, Cape Town
Booking link:
Running time: Two hours
Cast and creative credits: Scroll down for box
Two by Tenn: Scroll down for box on two shows deal Feb 2022– two plays by Tennessee Williams

It has been a while since Tennessee Williams’ masterwork, A Streetcar Named Desire, was staged in Cape Town or South Africa. It is thrilling that Abrahamse and Meyer Productions, is premiering a new production at Artscape in Cape Town, in repertory with One Arm –adapted from a short story by Tennessee Williams. Both productions will have their US premiere in September, at the 2022 Provincetown Tennessee Williams Theatre Festival. Marcel Meyer provides insights into A Streetcar Named Desire, which is a concept production: Four actors play all the roles. The setting is in an asylum/sanatorium. A decade after the narrative takes place and Blanche DuBois looks back on her life. In addition to us being treated to this gem of a drama, the play has been intensely re-imagined, in relation to our context, in the global pandemic, as Meyer notes in the interview: “Illuminating truths about the current zeitgeist”.  Note: There are three authorised, printed versions of A Streetcar Named Desire.  Tennessee Williams trimmed the script after it was staged and we are seeing the two-hour version – not the three hour version. 

A Streetcar Named Desire – an iconic play to mark milestones

This year – 2022 – marks the 15th year celebration of Abrahamse & Meyer Productions. With the milestone birthday in mind, Abrahamse and Meyer “saved” A Streetcar Named Desire to mark its anniversary as a company and also to celebrate its association of ten years with the Provincetown Tennessee Williams Theatre Festival in the US. Marcel Meyer: “A Streetcar Named Desire is probably Williams’ most iconic play – so we wanted to save it for a very special occasion. As we were coming up for our 15th anniversary and in celebration of our decade long collaboration with the Provincetown Tennessee Williams Theatre Festival [our association started in 2012 with Kingdom of Earth], along with the 75th anniversary of Streetcar’s Broadway premiere, we thought the time was finally right to add Streetcar to the repertory. Our company launched in November 2006. We kicked off our 15th anniversary celebrations in November 2021 with The Lady Aoi. The celebratory season continues with A Streetcar Named Desire, One Arm and Contested Bodies [a new play by Fred Abrahamse and Marcel Meyer].”

Concept approach to staging A Streetcar Named Desire

In staging A Streetcar Named Desire, Abrahamse and Meyer Productions have approached the drama as a concept play – rather than simply transposing the text from page to stage. It is a four hander – with the actors playing all the roles. Blanche (Fiona Ramsay) is in an asylum and looks back on her life and what happened. In the “original” ending, we see her being led away to the institution but in this staging, the play opens in the asylum –a decade after everything. Marcel Meyer: “Correct. As with almost all our productions we try to find a strong conceptual ‘in’ into the production that also allows us to do big plays with small ensemble casts without compromising the artistic integrity of the play. The ‘in’ here was shifting the action on a decade and placing Blanche in the asylum already– where she relives the events of the play in an imagined reality, projecting the personalities of Stanley, Stella, Mitch etc onto the nurses, orderlies, and doctors in the asylum. One tends to think of Streetcar as a ‘realistic’ play – but if one goes back to Williams’ original text and stage directions along with earlier drafts like his early one-act treatment of Streetcar -titled Interior: Panic. He was exploring various theatrical ways to pull the play out of realism while dramatising Blanche’s descent into madness through the use of highly theatrical visual and aural effects. We feel our concept will hopefully restore that element of Williams’ original intention to the play again, without losing any of the coiled intensity associated with this masterpiece of a play.”

Resurrecting Blanche DuBois- as she reclaims her story

Abrahamse and Meyer Productions have flipped the narrative – which is cool. Blanche arrives with zest and hope. In recent recorded productions that I have seen, everything is dashed. She is diminished to a blabbering Southern Belle who croons – “I have always depended on the kindness of strangers”. She is ushered away; compliant and acquiescent. In this production, she takes back her power. She rises above her descent into so-called madness and victim of bullying men. I put it to Marcel Meyer: Are we invited to gaze at her story from an altered perspective? Marcel Meyer: “Absolutely. This production places the focus 100% on Blanche – allowing the audience to experience the narrative through her lens, reclaiming and re-living her story from her perspective.”

Sanatorium becomes a blank canvas to project memories, desires

Williams set the play in New Orleans. Has this been evoked in the design for this staging of A Streetcar Named Desire? Marcel Meyer: “The play is set in New Orleans. For this production we have created a clinical, all white space. An abstract interpretation of a sanatorium that becomes a blank canvas on which Blanche projects the memories of her life: A translucent plastic screen allows for shadow play and defused and distorted dream-like images to be created. Floating above this white space is a large billboard made of rusting metal letters spelling out the word DESIRE in glowing naked light bulbs. Because the set is all white, it is in essence a giant cyclorama on which Faheem Bardien can boldly ‘paint’ on with his lighting design. Bringing to life Williams call for the interplay between hot and cold colours.”

Neutral palette of costumes with flashes of red

Extending the clinical, all white space, abstracted sanatorium, the costumes are also white; with flashes of red- passion, desire. Marcel Meyer: “The costumes, too, are all white except for Blanche’s red satin dressing gown that Williams specifies for certain scenes and Stanley’s red silk pyjamas for Scene 10 and Blanche ‘Della Robbia Blue’ outfit in the final scene. These white costumes will also take on the projected colour of the light in various scenes transmuting and transforming them as Blanche’s memories and paranoias shift and change.”

This is the two hour version of A Streetcar Named Desire

There are three published versions by Williams. Marcel Meyer: “Our production runs at two hours. But there are three authorised printed editions of play and depending on which edition a company uses the running time of the play can vary considerably. The first version that was printed was the draft that Williams originally submitted, and the original company started rehearsing on. This is the longest version of the play, and in performance that version can run anywhere between 2 ½ -3 hours. The subsequent editions are shorter and were based on the drafts that implanted cuts and refinements Williams made during the Broadway and London runs of the play.”

Distortion of sounds to signal Blanche’s madness

Music was important to Tennessee Williams. Insights into how music and sound is used in this production? Marcel Meyer: “Yes, music and sound effects were very important to Williams. Charl-Johan Lingenfelder is creating the score and soundscape for this production. In the text Williams indicated that he wants sound and the distortion of sounds to be used to signal Blanche’s madness. So, this is giving Charl and incredible scope to create a unique sound world for this production of the play.”

 A Streetcar in pandemic times- loss of dreams, re-conjuring lost dreams

The play premiered in 1947; post-war in Baby Boom America. People may have been locked down during the war years, but they could supposedly break free from a small town, like Blanche and find freedom in the city. Stella has built her life – far away from her past and then Blanche arrives – shaking everything up. Many people are feeling unhinged in these post hard lockdown days. This play will likely resonates with audiences in terms of Blanche arriving into Stella’s bubble? Marcel Meyer: “Yes, this is truly one of the great classic plays of all time and therefore it reverberates uniquely in each era it is performed. And although it is very much a product of its own time – it has the ability -like all great classics- to illuminate truths about the current zeitgeist. At its heart, Streetcar deals with the loss of dreams, and the need to re-conjure lost dreams – what could be more poignant and topical than that?”

Autobiographical elements- evocative poetic landscape

In writing of the play, Tennessee Williams, was inspired by his sister who had a lobotomy? Marcel Meyer: “Yes, the play was very much inspired by his sister’s mental illness and tragic lobotomy and this production further highlights that connection with its institutional setting and framework. Streetcar is the quintessential Williams’ play. It has the breathtakingly beautiful lyrical language, the wounded, marginalised characters; the realistic depictions of the characters psyche’s set in an evocative poetic landscape.”

The cast

Fiona Ramsay – possibly one of the leading Tennessee Williams actresses in the world – and Melissa Haiden -are both Johannesburg based and will be on stage in Cape Town for this production. Marcel Meyer: “Yes, both these remarkable actresses are first rate interpreters of Mr Williams’ great female characters. Fiona picked a Fleur Du Cap Theatre Award Best Actress nomination for her formidable portrayal of Princess Kosmonopolis in Sweet Bird of Youth and then won the Fleur du Cap for her Amanda Wingfield in The Glass Menagerie. And Melissa created the role of The Girl in the South African premiere of Green Eyes and gave a tour-de-force performance as Miriam in Williams’ haunting modern Noh play, In the Bar of a Tokyo Hotel.”

A Streetcar Named Desire in Cape Town and South Africa

It is difficult to ascertain when a professional production of A Streetcar Named Desire was last staged in South Africa as there may be productions which have fallen under the radar. As far as can be determined, by Marcel Meyer. “It appears that the most recent professional production in South Africa was Lara Foot’s 2002 all-Black production set in Sophiatown – staged at the National Arts Festival and at the Wits Theatre in Johannesburg. It looks like the first South African production was in 1951. There were a staging in 1975 with Michael McGovern as Stanley and Anne Rodgers as Blanche. There was an Afrikaans production by PACT Drama in 1985, at the State Theatre in Pretoria with Brumilde van Rensburg as Blanche and Marius Weyers as Stanley – ‘n Trem Genaamd Begeerte. It seems like every two decades there is a major professional revival of the play here in South Africa: 1951, 1975, 1985, 2002 and now -2022.”

Memories and paranoias: Fiona Ramsay as Blanche in Scene 10, A Streetcar Named Desire, by Tennessee Williams. This new production- is being staged by Abrahamse and Meyer Productions-in Cape Town at the Artscape Arena -February 2–12, 2022. Costume design by Marcel Meyer. Supplied.  

A Streetcar Named Desire, by Tennessee Williams – new production- staged by Abrahamse and Meyer Productions – premiere season in Cape Town at the Artscape Arena -February 2–12, 2022  

Production credits

Cast: Fiona Ramsay as Blanche du Bois with Marcel Meyer, Melissa Haiden and Matthew Baldwin
Director:  Fred Abrahamse
Costume design: Marcel Meyer
Set design: Fred Abrahamse
Lighting design: Faheem Bardien
Sound design: Charl-Johan Lingenfelder
Producer: Abrahamse and Meyer Productions    


Lovers of Tennessee Williams have a chance to experience a double-bill of the legendary playwrights’ work.  

See ONE ARM and A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE on the same evening and save R150

R380 buys you tickets to both Williams’ classics.  

This offer is valid for the 6pm performances of ONE ARM, followed by the 19:30 performances of A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE on February. 9, 10, 11

Tickets: Artscape Dial-a-Seat 021 421 7695,  Computicket or online  

More about the Summer Season and Special Offers:    
Red silk Pyjamas: Marcel Meyer as Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire, by Tennessee Williams, staged by Abrahamse and Meyer Productions – premiere season in Cape Town at the Artscape Arena -February 2–12, 2022. Costume design by Marcel Meyer. Supplied.  
Illuminating truths: Melissa’s Heiden as The Nurse/Stella in A Streetcar Named Desire, by Tennessee Williams, staged by Abrahamse and Meyer Productions – premiere season in Cape Town at the Artscape Arena -February 2–12, 2022. Costume design by Marcel Meyer. Supplied.  
Sanatorium white: Matthew Baldwin as Young Doctor/Mitch/ Ghost of Allan Grey, in A Streetcar Named Desire, by Tennessee Williams. The Abrahamse and Meyer Productions’ premiere season is in Cape Town at the Artscape Arena -February 2–12, 2022. Costume design by Marcel Meyer. Supplied.  

✳ Featured image: Fiona Ramsay as Blanche in A Streetcar Named Desire, by Tennessee Williams. New production- staged by Abrahamse and Meyer Productions-in Cape Town at the Artscape Arena -February 2–12, 2022. Costume design by Marcel Meyer. Supplied.  Related coverage: