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

Tennessee Williams at the Old Vic and other theatre news

Melina Mercouri in Sweet Bird of Youth (1979)

In a series of irregular features, this is a roundup of theatre news and rumours that caught my eye this past week:

  • Word is Marianne Elliott will direct Tennessee Williams’ Sweet Bird of Youth for the Old Vic, no news on the cast yet. I have never seen the play but my enduring image of it is a black and white photo, Melina Mercouri in a 1979 greek production. The project should attract a first rate and exciting cast. (Update 11/10/2012: Baz Bamigboye of the Daily Mail confirmed the rumour today, with the information that Kim Cattrall will play the lead role).
  • My current theatre obsession is a play and theatre production I haven’t seen: Peter and the Starcatcher went from workshop to off Broadway production to Tony award winning Broadway hit, and indications are strong it will transfer to the West End next. Roger Rees (who developed and co-directed the play in New York) is in London for his one man show What You Will so maybe there will be news soon.
  • A few months back, the Royal Court announced, as part of its upcoming season, the new Jez Butterworth / Ian Rickson play The River, and given that Jerusalem was the last offering from this playwright / director team, the interest was huge. Excitement turned to irritation as it was also announced that no tickets could be purchased in advance (membership booking or otherwise) and all tickets would be purchased on the day. A few days ago, cast was announced for the play with Dominic West, Miranda Raison and Laura Donnelly taking the roles in this intimate three-hander. This production feels like the poisoned chalice to me, as it will be difficult to live up to expectations and the whole business with the tickets didn’t buy a lot of good will (among regular – and paying – theatregoers like myself, the critics obviously don’t care). But if I ever get tickets, I ‘ll tell you what I think of it.