A Streetcar Named Desire is one of the Twentieth Century’s most enduring plays and Tennesse William’s tragic relationship between Stanley and Blanche is frequently retold. The English Touring Theatre is bringing a bold reimagining of the classic directed by Chelsea Walker. Starring as Stanley we caught up with Patrick Knowles ahead of their nationwide tour which ends in Southampton on June 16. For more information about where you can see the production visit here.
Thinking about your own background, how was it that you found yourself in theatre?
From a young age, I sang in a church choir and enjoyed the performance. I was very lucky and was encouraged by some very special teachers whilst at school and university who encouraged me to forge a path in theatre. I went to drama school at LAMDA and began working professionally when I graduated.
Some of your most recent work has included the Rome Season with the RSC, do you find yourself leaning more towards classical theatre?
I’ve been fortunate to work with the RSC for their last two seasons on both classical and new plays. ‘Seven Acts of Mercy’ and ‘Imperium’ are both new pieces of writing. But I’ve also been lucky to star in Shakespeare and Restoration work. I enjoy the mix!
What is it about classical theatre that still holds so much appeal to modern audiences?
Great stories and fantastic characters are timeless. The themes in Streetcar are still very relevant today and so is the discourse about gender politics and relationships.
How did you get involved with the English Touring Theatre?
I’ve always been a fan of ETT’s work – they programme interesting and diverse seasons with some of the most talented creatives in the country. I was very excited to work with Chelsea Walker on this production.
Photo credit: The Other Richard.
A Streetcar Named Desire is an iconic play that many of your audience will be familiar with. What is different about this production?
This production sets the story in contemporary New Orleans. Tennessee Williams once said in a letter to his publisher that Streetcar is an utterly contemporary piece and should be performed as such. Because the play is so famous it can be viewed as a museum piece. We’re getting in touch with what is urgent and relevant about the story.
Stanley Kowalski is one of theatre’s most interesting characters and described as an almost “unactable role”. How have you found getting to grips with Stanley as a character?
When you take on a role as famous as Stanley you have to try not to think about the gravitas of the role but instead approach it from a personal and truthful perspective. I’ve played parts before that have been labelled ‘tricky’ or ‘hard to play’. I find that breaking it down into smaller aspects of their character very helpful.
In light of the #metoo movement and the reexamining of domestic/gendered violence does the play have a greater significance?
I wouldn’t say it’s significance is greater. The themes have always been important. The play hasn’t changed in 80 years, but I think we’re just at a point where society is more willing to discuss the themes and issues and grant them the importance that they deserve without dismissing them as trivial or irrelevant.
What do you think the most exciting part about touring theatre is? Is it filling a particular gap?
On this tour we’re getting to visit some of the most attractive parts of the UK. It’s one of the perks of the job! It’s also important to take great theatre out of the ‘London Bubble’ and across the wider UK community.
What makes touring so difficult for actors? What has been the biggest difficulty for yourself?
Being away from home and living out of a suitcase can take its toll!
Are there any further projects for you on the horizon? Are there any roles you are eager to play?
I’ll be going into the West End this summer with Imperium, which originally opened at the RSC in Stratford Upon Avon. I’m really looking forward to working on the show again. In terms of a role I’d like to play, I’m not sure. I just like a fresh challenge!
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Alex is the founder of culturised having recently finished her studies at the University of York. She studied for an undergraduate in English and History and continued on to Masters level in Medieval Studies. With wide-ranging interests from theatre to art Alex is particularly interested in modern uses of medieval subject matter in various cultural forms.