Review: A Streetcar Named Desire (with Gillian Anderson and Ben Foster), Young Vic Theatre

Ben Foster as Stanley and Gillian Anderson as Blanche. Photo Johan Persson

Ben Foster as Stanley and Gillian Anderson as Blanche. Photo Johan Persson

I was going to start the review in some flippant way – Old Vic versus Young Vic, mine is bigger than yours, the fear of the theatre goer before the 3.5 hours production – but Benedict Andrews and company put a stop to all that. A Streetcar Named Desire at the Young Vic has such a strong grip on the senses I could feel its salty whiskey taste in my mouth. It’s rare and savage and addictive.

Tennessee Williams’ play pushes all my buttons, and not in a good way: domestic violence, rape, self-delusion, it’s hard to ignore the urge to shout: get out, snap out of it, run away. Benedict Andrews’ production magnifies these moments in all their horror while giving the characters a measure of personal worth free of judgement. These people don’t care what you think. But they make you care.

So much of Blanche DuBois is a performance: it’s the lies she tells others, before the lies she tells herself, before the lies no one can establish either way. Gillian Anderson is uncompromising in pursuing that performance and unmerciful in cornering Blanche in all her petty ways. When the performance cracks, Anderson falls into a pit of mute despair. It’s not vain, it’s not beatific, it’s so ugly it defies aesthetics and it’s beautiful again.

Stanley is a simple soul but the total committment with which he lives that simplicity is intoxicating (in both meanings of the word, both exhilarating and unhealthy). Ben Foster inhabits Stanley unapologetically. Continue reading

Review: Three Sisters at the Young Vic

Gala Gordon as Irina, Mariah Gale as Olga & Vanessa Kirby as Masha. Photo Simon Annand

A talented cast, a classic play, a theatre that regularly produces thrilling work (see A Doll’s House only a few weeks ago), where did all go wrong? You might have guessed that this production won’t make it to my top ten of the year, but a word of warning, my negative view of the production is considerably stronger than a mild dislike.

Short disclaimer: I have seen a few plays by Anton Chekhov, but I haven’t seen Three Sisters before. I don’t dislike unconventional interpretations of classic plays, it’s up to every individual production to won me over. But Three Sisters at the Young Vic, adapted and directed by Benedict Andrews, is so far off the mark that at times I felt personally insulted it was wasting my time (and at three hours running time, that’s a lot of time to waste).

The adaptation sets the play in modern times, the actors wear modern, if largely old fashioned, clothes and words like television and hair transplant are used. But the setting is neither naturalistic nor poetic, and that world never comes alive. It’s a vague place for people who probably don’t exist whose suffering is not real. As a result, their conflicts seem small minded and inconsequential. The modern words make the text sound banal, which in turn makes Chekhov’s big ideas sound nonsensical. Continue reading