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A CurtainUp London London Review
A Streetcar Named Desire

"Turn that light off! I won't be looked at in this merciless glare." — Blanche
A Streetcar Named Desire
Gillian Anderson as Blanche Dubois (Photo: Johan Persson)
Australian director Benedict Andrews gives us his take on Tennessee Williams' play of delusion and self deception. The first break with tradition is the set, which unlit looks more like Habitat or Ikea than a cramped New Orleans apartment. Open plan, with curtains instead of walls, we see the kitchen/living room, bedroom , bathroom and the fire escape staircase outside, Sometimes action is happening in all three rooms at once. Blanche spends a lot of time in the bath behind a total surround pink shower curtain.

The brilliant staging for the in the round seating at the Young Vic in this production is for the set to continually rotate very slowly so that our view is never blocked for any length of time and we all will enjoy unexpected close ups and we know any inability to see a speaking character will not last for long. It is more frustrating however when we cannot hear an actor on the far side of the stage.

Usually we have a delicate Blanche, although less than honest, "I don't tell the truth. I tell what ought to be the truth" brought down by a cruel brother in law, Stanley Kowalski but Benedict Andrews is never going to give us "usual". Blanche's sister Stella is often rather plain when compared to Blanche. Well, this production throws those ideas out of the Streetcar window. Gillian Anderson's Blanche is a fashion plate from her Louis Vuitton luggage to her evening frocks and as tough as old boots with her all too often monotone delivery. It is easy to see what the Belle Rive family estate monies were spent on!
She enters and immediately seeks out the bottle of bourbon under the sink. We can see the dark roots to her blonde hair. She is rarely without her high heels even wearing them when her other clothing is just a bath towel. She is frankly bored on the date with Mitch. In the rape scene Stanley is uncovering layer after layer of tulle from her pink prom dress so it seems more an assault on the frock than on her person. However in the last ten minutes of the play when Blanche has broken down, she gets into the bath fully clothed and emerging dripping wet she elicits great sympathy as the asylum employees come to take her away.

Ben Foster's short but extremely muscled Stanley, still affected by his army experience, is deeply unattractive both in character and person. We would expect our sympathies to be with Blanche but I found myself not really caring about either of them. Only Stella (Vanessa Kirby) draws our sympathy when picked on by her sister and abused by her husband, a strange situation she willingly returns to as if the making up is sexually charged after a fight. Corey Johnson's decent Mother's boy Mitch looks as if he might offer Blanche a way out until Stanley dishes the dirt. However Anderson is so sexually provocative with all the men she meets, including the juvenile delivery boy, that we doubt that any marriage would have worked out for this sexually out of control woman.

In presenting Streetcar in a more recent era than the 1950s Benedict Andrews has said in interviews that he wanted to get away from the gentrification of the New Orleans quarter where Tennessee Williams originally set the play. I think he has succeeded in that but I think the casualty is the delicacy of Blanche who, despite her lies and her pretension, should be someone for whom we eventually feel pity.

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A Streetcar Named Desire
Written by Tennessee Williams
Directed by Benedict Andrews

Starring: Gillian Anderson, Ben Foster, Corey Johnson, Vanessa Kirby
With: Clare Burt, ?Lachele Carl, Branwell Donaghey,Otto Farrant, Nicholas Gecks, Troy Glasgow, Stephanie Jacob, Claire Prempeh
Designer: Magda Willi
Costumes: Victoria Behr
Lighting: Jon Clark
Sound: Paul Arditti
Music: Alex Baranowski
Running time: Three hours 30 minutes with one interval
Box Office: 020 7922 2922
Booking to 19th September 2014
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 28th July 2014 performance at The Young Vic , 66 The Cut, London SE1 8LZ(RaIL/Tube: Waterloo, Southwark)
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