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Benedict Andrews’ exhilarating production of Tennessee William’s classic A Streetcar Named Desire has taken the theatre world by storm. Originally set in the stifling heat of post-war New Orleans, Andrews relocates to the 21st century, but the timeless tale of a damaged Southern belle remains the same. Blanche DuBois (Gillian Anderson), a fragile individual who has lost her estate, money, and job travels to New Orleans to seek shelter and solace in her sister Stella Kowalski (Vanessa Kirby), who is her only remaining family. Yet when she arrives at her sister’s poky and run-down flat, things are not as expected. Blanche’s bourgeois old fashioned values clash with Stanley (Ben Foster), Stella’s whiskey drinking, poker loving, and sexually animalistic husband. As the play progresses we are drawn into Blanche’s mental downward spiral and the dark past which perpetually haunts her.
Andrews’ production was solely performed at The Young Vic Theatre in London, but they launched a live screening on the first night in cinemas all over the UK. I attended the live screening at Odeon cinema in Preston and believing it wouldn’t be very busy, I didn’t pre-book. I was wrong. The cinema was completely filled. Only just scraping a ticket, I was sat two rows from the front. The amount of people there proved the play’s timeless appeal and the profound impact it has on an audience.
Andrews’ refreshing and gritty adaptation of the play does not disappoint. The mundane and bleak set of a 21st century apartment takes centre stage. Inside, the colour scheme is white and minimalist. Performed in the round, the stage is intimate and small; the tiny and transparent apartment means the actors can’t hide for a second. The stage actually rotates at periods during the performance, in order to give each audience member their own unique performance. While this is a quirky manoeuvre, I can’t help but worry that the actors get dizzy…
If they do, they hide it well. Kirby and Foster are convincing as the darkly passionate couple alongside Anderson’s phenomenal performance as Blanche – she is particularly captivating in the last scene of the play. However, whereas Blanche is a graceful, delicate woman, Anderson gives the audience a harder vision of a pathetic and pitiful woman’s descent into madness and alcoholism. She is trashy rather than endearing and her voice often borders on hysterical. This leaves an uncomfortable feeling, but is no doubt intentional what with the 21st century context.
I have to say I prefer the original escape and magic of the sizzling heat and beautiful dresses of 1940’s New Orleans – at times the story can become disorientating in the modern day setting and costume (Kirby wears jeggings!). However, Andrews’ production provides an intriguingly darker, powerful and jarring new perspective on the dangers of lust, deception and mental health.
Overall, I think that the play is a must-see – if you get a chance to go to a screening, you should. It doesn’t matter that you’re not there in person; the emotions of the actors are intensified on the big screen to the point where you could argue it’s an even more intimate experience.
A NT Encore screening of A Streetcar Named Desire will take place at the Dukes on Wednesday, week 4. Tickets can be found here.