On paper there's no way you'd expect this to work: Janine Butcher does Blanche Dubois in one of America's most iconic plays. But the truth is that even that statement is supremely unfair to Charlie Brooks, who has long since left EastEnders behind and established herself as one of her generation's classiest actors.
Starring in Nikolai Foster's thrilling production of the Tennessee Williams classic in Curve's bijou black-box studio, she embodies the part of the insanely damaged Southern belle who turns up unannounced on her sister's doorstep and wreaks havoc among those who come into any kind of proximity.
In Brooks's performance, this Blanche matches fiery feistiness with tender fragility, and is all the more potent for it. She's a clear case of ‘more sinned against than sinning' and her terrifying unravelling before our eyes is a triumphant achievement by a notable talent.
Foster's direction never wavers as he leads us on a gripping, spiralling journey into deceit and destruction, and he's brilliantly served by his top-notch cast. Blanche needs a gutsy Stanley Kowalski to play off, and Brooks squares up to an electrifying opponent in the shape of Stewart Clarke. He's rugged, brutal but eminently believable as Blanche's ‘common' brother-in-law, and their verbal and physical skirmishes are painfully portrayed in a series of stunning sequences.
Stanley's friends and neighbours are fully fleshed performances too, with Patrick Knowles particularly touching as the love-struck Mitch and Dakota Blue Richards as Blanche's poignant punchbag sister Stella, but the strength of the casting is across the board and there are no weak links to this impressive team. Even bit-parts such as the upstairs couple Eunice and Steve are weighty, well-crafted offerings in the hands of Sandy Foster and Mark Peachey, and there's an enjoyable blink-and-you'll-miss-it professional debut from one of Curve's former Young Company members Nicholas Alexander.
The creative input is no less significant. Michael Taylor's epic, evocative set drenches the studio in Louisiana heat, with a stunning, jazz-inspired score from composer David Shrubsole adding to the oppressive atmosphere. Lighting (Guy Hoare) and some deafening sound (Adam McCready) contribute to the overall impact as Williams's grim, gritty play swamps the space with its tragic denouement.
Against such a finely-drawn backdrop, Foster's immaculately choreographed production and the ensemble's pitch-perfect performances combine to deliver a show that will linger long in the memory.