Written by Theatre

A Streetcar Named Desire

The corner of Royal and Desire in New Orleans. There really was a streetcar that ran along Desire…

It seems that this has been one of the hot tickets of the season, which just makes it bit odd that I managed to buy a pair of tickets for a Saturday night a couple of weeks ago, purely by logging onto the Young Vic’s website after the reviews came out when I idly though I might go. I guess that other people cancel going to even the most popular shows, so it’s always worth checking (Yes – this is how I got to Kate Bush too – try checking around 11am if you’re after tickets for that). Anyway, enough of the smugness, what about the play?

Well it was fantastic.

I first saw A Streetcard Named Desire years ago – sometime in the eighties or nineties. Try as I might, I can’t remember who played Blanche, although I’m sure it was a starry West End cast. (Where’s the equivalent of IMDB for plays?)

This time around we have Gillian Anderson as a terrific Blanche Dubois, arriving to stay at her younger sister’s home in New Orleans. She totter slowly onto the stage trailing her baggage and wearing large sunglasses. This can’t be the right place.

Her sister Stella (Vanessa Kirby) isn’t home at first, and she hasn’t mentioned to Stanley (Ben Foster) that her older sister was coming to stay.

The heat of the summer is making people angsty. Blanche expects more than she’s getting. Stanley doesn’t trust her.

The play is given a contemporary setting – a cordless phone, and cans rather than bottles of beer and (Diet) Coke. But it doesn’t really matter. It all still holds true nearly 70 years after Tennessee Williams wrote it. And the design is fascinating, with a stage that is in constant motion, slowly revolving while the audience watches in the round. For the most part this works, with the direction meaning that you naturally flick around to different parts of the set for different scenes. But occassionally your vision is blocked at a crucial scene by a door. Or you can’t fail to notice that they’ve had to speed it up so that actors can enter and leave on cue.

But it’s all about the performances really. Anderson is superb, not overdoing the alcoholism, although you can see it in her eyes, and her manner. She gets the laughs, and the sadness. Life has not gone as she’d planned. But she knows how to work men, or at least she thinks she does. Her seduction of a paperboy, from a 21st century perspective, is quite shocking.

Foster’s Stanley is still macho, but somehow not quite as much of a bruiser as I’ve seen him before. I’m pretty certain he must have bulked up though, since he played Lance Armstrong in the forthcoming Stephen Frears film about the man. The lines about him not being a “Polack” seems very relevant in today’s society too.

Stella just can’t help herself, and forgives the violence that sometimes erupts – seemingly across the whole neighbourhood. There is definitely pent up sexual tension here. And you can see why the 1951 film was so heavily censored.

Overall the performances are exceptional, and I loved it.

This is the last week to try to catch it in person, or go see the NT Live showing tomorrow!