By Mary Grace Nguyen
I am incredibly thankful that National Theatre Live and, over 1000, UK cinemas gave audiences the opportunity to see the encore screening of Tennessee Williams’ play A Streetcar Named Desire, with the X-files star Gillian Anderson, that was running at the Young Vic as the fastest selling show in its history.
The production ran from late July until the September 19th and, even then, most of the shows were sold out, which only proves the sheer advantage and need for cinema screenings.
The American playwright, Williams received various awards such as the ‘Pulitzer Price for Drama’ in 1948 with major film stars including Marlon Brando and Vivien Leigh playing the lead roles. Yet, besides the glitz and glamour the play received, on stage and as a movie, A Streetcar Named Desire has an engrossing script that pulls audiences in through its unadulterated dialogue and complicated characters.
Australian theatre and opera director Benedict Andrews is known for being controversial and for this production, he decided to recreate a rotational skeletal frame of an apartment as oppose to the original 1940s setting of a home in New Orleans. This allowed the audience to see everything and to actively engage with the stage in viewing different angles, which, pretty much, worked in the same way for cinema audiences too.
Southern belle Blanche DuBois (Anderson) is our damsel in distress in fancy vintage attire; she is a lady of sophistication. She travels by a New Orlean Desire streetcar to see her sister Stella (Vanessa Kirby) who is married to the brutish and sexually charged Stanley (Ben Foster). Stella welcomes Blanche to stay, as she says that her work has allowed her time off; yet, Stanley has his doubts about her.
As the story progresses, and with Blanche’s increasing need for drink, Stella and Stanley’s relationship begin to worsen with the bitter onslaught of physical violence and sexual manipulation, which Blanche doesn’t understand. She tries to develop a relationship with Mitch, Corey Johnson; cast in many Bourne legacy films, yet Stanley reveals some shocking news that thwarts everything she had said and puts her own persona into question. Due to Stanley’s sordid frustrations with Blanche and after raping her, Blanche descends into madness saying her signature line ‘I’ve always depended on the kindness of stranger’ as she leaves hand in arm with a psychiatrist.
The show, which lasts for almost four hours, is a sensory overload of impassioned acting and dynamic movement that is filled with the best quotes and lines. The classic jazz and booming rock music make it difficult for any audience to look elsewhere but the stage. The inclusion of Chris Isaak’s Wicked Game also highlights the highly intense and sexually driven relationship of Stanley and Stella.
The Six Feet Under star Foster depicted a scary and menacing Stanley which could easily brand him as the baddy yet, despite his overt masculinity and the emotional grief he bestows on Stella, there’s a small piece of Foster’s characterisation of Stanley that is likable; after all, we cannot forget that Blanche is, also, a flawed character.
Kirby, who played Estella in BBC’s Great Expectations, did just as well as a supportive sister, and slightly submissive, and trapped wife with a soft Southern accent. She fluttered around the stage with her sensuous toned stomach and tight-fitted jeans, but was strong where necessary particularly in the last scene screaming and wailing, ‘What have I done to my sister?’
Anderson as Blanche, however, was unbelievably tenacious and resilient throughout as she conducted herself with a sweet and charming voice that showed trances of a genteel and courteous lady. Yet, she also boasted all the attributes of a fallen woman in a very unique way. Anderson embraced the script and breathed it. At times, audiences weren’t sure if Blanche was talking to Mitch or herself which, displayed early signs of insanity.
Anderson has always wanted to play the role as Blanche since her last collaboration with Andrews in 2012 during the production of Critics’ Circle Award-winning play, Chekhov’s Three Sisters. She even admitted in an interview, ‘I have completely fallen in love with Blanche and I was unprepared for that.’
Most of the cast in this production are known for their expertise in film and TV, which could account for one of the main reasons the shows sold out fast – it was guaranteed to present first-class acting. If more stars of this calibre are casted in theatre, then more shows will sell out and may require more dates for shows or, alternatively, more cinema screenings… Watch this space.
There is an encore screening of the performance on October 19th at the Gate Cinema and many other picture houses in the UK and abroad.