A Streetcar Named Desire
Friday, 15 August 2014

A Streetcar Named Desire

Brilliantly stylised and horribly real, this production is never underdressed and Gillian Anderson is superb

Written by Georgina Brown
georgina-brown 2805A couple of years ago, an inspired production of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House at the Young Vic quite literally put a new spin on an old classic. The cramped apartment that Nora had made into a cosy family home revolved so that we could see her flit busily from room to room to see to the children and dress the Christmas tree. As it spun faster and faster, sickeningly fast, it reflected Nora’s frantic giddiness as she became prey to a loan shark.

Once again the Young Vic stage is revolving, in a different way but to similarly sensational effect, in director Benedict Andrews’s outstanding revival of Tennessee Williams’s 1947 play, A Streetcar Named Desire.

There are no walls in the tiny apartment in New Orleans where the disgraced Southern belle, Blanche DuBois, has sought refuge with her younger sister Stella, and her brute of a husband, Stanley. So no place for Gillian Anderson’s Blanche to hide, except behind the curtain around the bath. No privacy – not even on the loo. Everyone knows what the neighbours are doing: getting drunk, raucously breaking up, then making up. It’s brilliantly stylised and horribly real, making voracious voyeurs of the audience, frustrated when a sightline or a spoken line gets blocked and one misses something, the inevitable downside of an otherwise superb staging.

In another bold decision, Andrews had chucked out the traditional jazzy soundtrack and replaced it with jagged rock. Out too go Blanche’s vintage frocks and in come classy contemporary labels. This Blanche, while often undressed to her undies, is never underdressed; putting on not one, but two, different ball gowns for her devastating birthday party when she is given a return ticket back home by Stanley and is stood up by Mitch, when he hears she’s been prostituting herself.

Arthur Miller called the play ‘a cry of pain’. Gillian Anderson’s restrained performance gives that cry a piercing eloquence, never more so than in her final collapse into near madness, having been raped by Stanley and betrayed by her sister who has committed her to an asylum. Dressed as if for a wedding, in a sequinned yellow dress, pale-blue jacket, matching stilettos and handbag, she takes the arm of the doctor and makes a circuit of the stage. Tiny, wobbly, but standing tall like an exotic bird with a broken wing, a shadow of smeared lipstick still visible on a trembling chin held high, she puts on a show to the last. Kenneth Tynan wrote that we should feel that a part of civilisation is going with her. A ravaged Anderson does so triumphantly.

Until 19 September at the Young Vic, 66 The Cut, London SE1: 020-7922 2922, www.youngvic.org

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