Paul T Davies reviews the Young Vic’s production of A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams which is streaming until 28 May 2020 on the National Theatre at Home platform.
A Streetcar Named Desire.
National Theatre At Home/Young Vic.
Streaming until 28 May 2020
Although hearing and seeing the applause at the end of a show has the ability to bring tears to my eyes because I miss live theatre so much, millions of us are grateful for streaming theatre. Not only do we get a chance to revisit productions we enjoyed, we also get another opportunity to see a show we missed, and have a week to do so. This week’s National Theatre at Home is the Young Vic and Joshua Andrew’s 2014 co-production of A Streetcar Named Desire, Tennessee Williams’ sultry classic. Director Benedict Andrews, however, doesn’t set this production in the period, rock music fills the transitions, Blanche sings Fleetwood Mac in the bath, and we loose atmosphere and location. It also underlines the problematic sexual politics of the piece. Once we move out of the 1950s, Stanley’s behaviour is even more brutish, and it’s a tricky balancing act as, although Stanley hits his wife and rapes Blanche, members of the audience, of any gender specification, must want to sit on their front porches fanning themselves and wishing for the rains to cool their desire for Stanley down.
The central trio of actors are particularly fine, with Gillian Anderson in strong form as faded Southern Belle Blanche Du Bios, crashing into her sister’s home bringing loss, dreams and defiance with her, she doesn’t want realism she wants magic. Anderson is particularly good at showing the extremes of Blanche “performing” her image and Blanche stripped of everything. It’s tricky to judge via a screening, but in places, I felt her performance was a tad one dimensional, too much play-acting, (and her voice is particularly croaky in this performance), but she is heartbreaking at the finale, looking like a vulnerable child awaiting rescue. I really felt she was suffering PTSD. Much is written about her faded grandeur, but not much about what her sister, Stella has lost. Vanessa Kirby is superb in this role, showing a woman who has adapted freely to her new circumstances, unlike Blanche who drags her deluded past around with her. In Kirby’s performance, I understood that Stella’s problem was in trying to make everyone else happy, and she was even more vulnerable for that,
Marlon Brando forged Stanley with a mould of fierce steel, and Ben Foster slips easily into that fiery mould, he exudes brutish sex appeal. (The universal time period also embraces his tattoos and hairy chest.) He does not shy away from the complications of the role, he is often thoroughly unlikeable, and the attempt to make him vulnerable has him crying for Stella in his underpants. Kirby and Forster leave you in no doubt that fucking is a cornerstone of Stella and Stanley’s relationship, and theirs is a passion Blanche had either had and lost with her young husband many years ago or has never had. Corey Johnson is excellent as sweet, kind Mitch, providing some much-needed light relief, becoming wrapped in the lies and loneliness of Blanche, until his dreams are shattered by her time at the notorious Flamingo Hotel.
Magda Wills’s fractured, revolving set, allows us to feel we are eavesdropping and witnessing these relationships, and this is a powerful production, building with sure-footed tension to that final exit of Blanche from the house. Well worth three hours of your time, just go easy on the Southern Comfort.
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