A Streetcar Named Desire is currently showing at The Young Vic and has become the fastest-selling production in the entire theatre’s history. These ticket sales may have largely been fuelled by the anticipation of seeing Gillian Anderson taking on the iconic role of Blanche DuBois, but every single ticket holder is in for an incredible treat.
Tennessee Williams’ renowned play explores the juxtaposition of illusion and reality through the characters of: Blanche DuBois, the fading Southern Belle; her sister Stella, and Stella’s husband Stanley Kowalski, the blue-collar, all-American man. As the play progresses, the world of fantasy and magic that Blanche has created for herself begins to crumble, when she goes to stay with her sister and brother-in-law. It is Stanley who is responsible for this, with his constant questioning of her motives, and intent to bring her into the light and force her into facing reality.
This play is steeped in history, but a comparison with previous productions and the big names that have filled the characters’ shoes on other occasions, only goes to show that director Benedict Andrews has injected freshness into this well-known story.
The staging mimics the tone of the play – for the actors, there is nowhere to hide. The stage rotates almost continuously through the play, changing the audience’s perception; moving this way and that way, it causes an unsteadiness and chaos which reflects the ups and downs of the story. This works alongside the clever use of music and subtle foreshadowing to build the tension amongst the characters, and drive the plot to its unsettling and dramatic conclusion.
The way that Gillian Anderson appears to have approached the role is to invite the audience to be intimate with Blanche. Rather than watch the play simply unfold at a distance, a new dimension is introduced, where you can become a fly on the wall, and quietly observe the interactions between that characters that revolve around the issues of power, female sexuality, status, vanity, and decay. She manages to capture the southern charm that causes a disruption in the behaviour of the men she encounters, particularly her brother-in-law Stanley who becomes so deeply affected by her, it leads him to violence.
Ben Foster makes an impressive Stanley; physically commanding the stage and frequently changing the dynamic of the play rapidly. While Vanessa Kirby shows the strength and vulnerability of Stella that leaves her constantly torn between her sister and her husband.
The show lasts around three and a half hours, but never once did my attention waver. Instead, it is far too easy to find yourself entirely swept up in the intensity of the production, and adopting different emotions, mimicking the characters at certain times throughout. Though what strikes me most, is that this is the first time where I feel that I have completely understood Blanche’s journey, and now love the story just a little bit more than I already did.