Note: This review is from the 2016 Fringe

Have you ever seen a play with subtitles? You have now. The Tumanishvili Film Actors’ Theatre brings their own unique take on Tennessee Williams’ classic play to the Fringe with a subtitled adaptation carried out entirely in Georgian.

The production values of the play are exemplary, and it’s impressive that a troupe from as far away as Georgia were able to bring such a comprehensive production to Edinburgh. “We are committed to introducing and promoting Georgian culture abroad, but this year we again experienced stumbling blocks while fund-raising,” explained director Keti Dolidze. “We therefore made the critical decision to secure funding from the budget of Tbilisi’s Georgian International Festival of Arts to ensure we raised enough money to return with a large ensemble piece to Edinburgh.”

From the claustrophobic set of Stella’s room which will provide the backdrop of every scene to the backlit screen which brings the eponymous streetcar to life on stage, the costume, props and setting are impeccable. The heavy use of jazz (including a memorable introduction with a silhouetted saxophone player) evokes the time and place of 1940s New Orleans, and the smoke machine employed to bring Blanche onto stage is very effective.

As the star of the show, Nineli Chankvetadze brings dignity, fragility and humanity to the role of Blanche DuBois. Her every movement and expression is measured and evocative, breathing life into the production, and she is ably supported by the entire cast. Not one of them puts a foot wrong, and it’s almost tragic to think how good this play would be in its native country.

Unfortunately, the subtitles badly let the cast and crew down. Absorbing subtitles while still keeping an eye on all of the action would be hard enough in itself, but countless spelling mistakes, missed cues and repeated dialogue mean that the audience probably only understands about half of what is being said – and even then any nuance or subtlety is completely lost in translation. The end result is incredibly disappointing.

With an adept translation and better coordination from the technical team, this play could have been a real hidden gem of the Fringe. The sad truth, however, is that if this were a movie with equally shoddy subtitles, you’d turn it off. Indeed, several audience members did vacate their seats once it became clear that the translations weren’t going to improve. The acting and production made the play worth sticking around for until the final curtain, but its undoubted quality is heavily compromised by the mediocrity of the translation. A real shame.