Interview: Sara Malik on directing ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’

This term, The King’s Players put on a classic of American theatre – Tennessee Williams’ ‘A Streetcar Names Desire’.

The full cast… Credit: Lara Peters

Roar met with director Sara Malik to discuss this exciting production.

To begin – what’s a play you’ve seen recently that you enjoyed?

Mary Stuart at the Almeida. For the last 15 minutes of that show, my jaw was permanently dropped!

Tell me about your previous theatrical experience at King’s.

The first play I directed at King’s was The House of Bernarda Alba. I rewrote the play and gave it a contemporary Spanish setting. Directing my own script is something I’ll never do again! Then, I directed ‘the Crucible’. The production focused on the racial tensions in the story and related it to the Black Lives Matter movement.

“It was a big moment for me – as a director, I need to connect to every character”

I also directed ‘the Tempest’ last term, in a heavily adapted version which involved spoken word poetry, live musicians, a postcolonial reading of the text and a specific focus on the characters of Ariel and Caliban.

Why did you choose to pitch ‘Streetcar’?

Having done a few plays at King’s, I could see that there was always pressure to reinvent and modernize the scripts. Thus, I wanted to try putting on a play that didn’t need anything done to it – a play so well-written that it was already complete. ‘Streetcar’ is such a play – it contains two of the most iconic characters in theatre. The challenge with this production is to honour that and try to be as truthful to the play as possible.

Photo credit: Lara Peters

Who was the most difficult character to cast?

The most difficult role to cast was certainly that of Stanley Kowalski. The great pleasure of directing this play is that we have the freedom to interpret iconic characters in an original way, based on our collective life experiences. However, it is a challenge to find actors who will take on as well as enjoy the burden of such roles. Stanley assaults several women in the play, and it takes a skilled actor to handle that role with sensitivity. He must on the one hand recognize and condemn Stanley’s flaws, on the other hand, he must do his duty as an actor to connect to him and feel sympathy for him. The actor cast as Stanley, Nick Carter, struck the right balance from his first audition and continued to rehearse with an unparalleled sensitivity.

What’s your favourite scene in the play?

I didn’t have a favourite scene going in, but I recently discovered it during a rehearsal. It’s scene 9, in which Blanche is rejected by a man who has found out about her tainted past. We acutely feel Blanche’s vulnerability here and the patriarchal structures weighing down on her become apparent. It’s an explosive, heartbreaking and infuriating scene.

“Ultimately, this play is about a lost soul”

Our cast acted it exceedingly well; it was an electric moment that brought new energy to the rehearsal room. It was a big moment for me – as a director, I need to connect to every character. In this scene, I suddenly felt I could really relate to Blanche and her battle with the patriarchy.

What does your rehearsal process look like?

This is a very long and challenging play to rehearse in under two months with student resources. Still, there can be no compromise in the level of emotional depth the actors reach before performing. We begin each rehearsal by reading the scene as a group. I prepare questions to ask each actor about their characters so that there is a framework to each rehearsal. However, for me, the most rewarding part of a rehearsal is hearing the actors discuss without a prompt from me – their ability to connect with what is important about the scene and reflect on the actions of their characters. Each actor and member of the creative team must be well-informed before we even begin to stage a scene – we need this groundwork to make sure we are all working on the same play!

Photo credit: Lara Peters

What do you think the play is about, at its heart?

Another big question! Tennessee Williams’ talent lies in his ability to create an almost musical beauty from ordinary lives. Ultimately, this play is about a lost soul. The story contains bewilderment, loneliness, and a yearning for help, a cry of pain. To honour that pain in the bravest and most truthful way is the duty of any creative team behind a production of ‘Streetcar’.

And lastly – are you a Blanche or a Stella?

I’m probably a Blanche in the rehearsal room, and a Stella in the rest of my life.

A Streetcar Named Desire was played in the Anatomy Museum (Strand Campus) on March 22, 24, 25 and 26.

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