A Streetcar Named Desire

Critics' choice
1/11
© Johan Persson

Ben Foster (Stanley Kowalski) and Gillian Anderson (Blanche DuBois)

2/11
© Johan Persson

Vanessa Kirby (Stella Kowalski)

3/11
© Johan Persson

Ben Foster (Stanley Kowalski)

4/11
© Johan Persson

Gillian Anderson (Blanche DuBois)

5/11
© Johan Persson
6/11
© Johan Persson

Gillian Anderson (Blanche DuBois)

7/11
JOHAN PERSSON
8/11
© Johan Persson

Ben Foster (Stanley Kowalski)

9/11
© Johan Persson

Gillian Anderson (Blanche DuBois)

10/11
© Johan Persson

Ben Foster (Stanley Kowalski) and Gillian Anderson (Blanche DuBois)

11/11
© Johan Persson

Gillian Anderson (Blanche DuBois)

‘Sickening’, ‘dizzying’ and ‘disorientating’ are all fine, well-worn pieces of critical guff that sound important but rarely describe theatre in any sort of literal sense. But revered Aussie director Benedict Andrews’s much anticipated, Gillian Anderson-starring production of ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ is something else. To whit: the entire set of the in-the-round show spins constantly, mostly clockwise, with the occasional lurch into widdershins. Set under Jon Clark’s treacly lights and accompanied by a soundtrack that veers from spooky nocturnal jazz to the seismic roar of avant-rock gods Swans, this take on Tennessee Williams’s great American tragedy often imbued with the air of a waking nightmare, a visceral physical manifestation of heroine Blanche DuBois’s disintegrating mind. I really wouldn’t recommend to anyone suffering from motion sickness.

I’d almost call it ‘Lynchian’, but that would undersell the crystal-clarity of the production. Prosaically, the spinning is quite democratic – everyone in the audience will get as good a view as everyone else, just not all at the same time. Magda Willi’s set is uncluttered, a basic steel frame with bit of modern furniture in it and a diaphanous gauze down the middle, a symbolic boundary between airy Blanche and her earthy brother-in-law Stanley (Ben Foster).

And ultimately, it is all about Blanche and Stanley – Andrews may be an auteur of sorts, but as with the gigantic piles of dirt in his landmark 2012 ‘Three Sisters’, his flourishes serve the story, they don’t obfuscate.

A long way from her sci-fi days, the Gillian Anderson of 2014 is an actor of great stature; without wanting to get creepy about it, she’s also probably considerably more classically attractive than she was 20 years ago. All this lends her ‘fading beauty’ Blanche a potency often absent in a character who can default into the pathetic. When she suddenly bustles into the white trash world of her estranged sister Stella (Vanessa Kirby), she may be fleeing demons but she looks for all the world like some glamorous extraterrestrial, come to impose her will on this little corner of New Orleans. Delicate and refined even in her cups, even her wearisome insistence on flirting with every man who crosses her path has an elegant precision.

But she has reckoned without Foster’s truly fascinating Stanley. A world away from Marlon Brando’s brutish film interpretation, US actor Foster is a troubling and original presence. He’s musclebound and tattooed, but there’s a peculiarly Woody Allen-ish quality to him – he’s short (towered over by Kirby), whiny, by no means sure of himself and genuinely outraged by Blanche’s relentless lying. When he overhears her calling him a beast, his feelings are clearly hurt; when she accuses him of physically intimidating her, he’s in fact doing nothing of the sort. It’s a bitter battle between her fire and his ice, and when finally he gives in to his darker nature, there’s a perverse sense of her triumph – he has become the monster she unfairly portrayed him to be.

It’s not much of a triumph, though – the last half hour is a horrorshow tour de force, as a drunk, fragmenting Blanche staggers through a house that shifts and spins nauseatingly under her feet, the last of herself ebbing away as her struggle with Stanley enters its endgame.

If there’s a criticism to be made here, it’s that Anderson and Foster dominate the production to the point everyone else fades – it’s not a very rounded show. But their clash really is something to behold – dizzying, disorientating, sickening.

Average User Rating

3.3 / 5

Rating Breakdown

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LiveReviews|4
12 people listening
Ali F

I saw this play last night on a screen at my local theatre.it was dire.it was too loud and because of revolving stage kept seeing the constantly changing view of the audience which was very distracting.I left during the intermission as I couldn't stomach sitting for another 3 hours.also a film from the young vic was being played before the 2nd half which I didn't want to see.this should have been put on at the end.may have been better if filmed on an ordinary stage without the audience.truly awful night out and Gillian Anderson was ok but not fantastic


Katarina J

I was sitting in front of the Wyndham's theatre, hoping to get a day ticket (yes I know, bear with me, I'll get to Young Vic) for Skylight when the lady next to me asked for advice what else to see while she's in London. I suggested Streetcar Named Desire which I was lucky to see the previous week. However, she hesitated, saying she saw the NY production with Cate Blanchett and now feels reluctant to see other productions which might not live up to its brilliance. I have no idea whether she had gone to see it or not and I have not seen the Cate Blanchett version, but I certainly fancy myself saying in the coming years, well have you seen the version with Gillian Anderson? 

Because apart from the gawking and absolutely awed 14 year old somewhere deep inside me; I have been truly quite stunned by everyone, especially Gillian Anderson, the revolving stage (I do like the 'in the round' Vics of the moment), the sometimes almost bizarre Blanche's costumes and her fascinating fragile web of lies she hopes to build a new life on and what happens when her sisters' brutish husband pulls a thread out of sheer discomfort of having this strange woman constantly a curtain away from everything he has. 

Oh, btw, I got tickets for Skylight, but that's a whole other story. 

piapescia

The only reason Kirby towers over Foster is because they put her in incredibly high heels (even with the platform) I found this interesting as a costume designer choice, given the vulnerable and victim of domestic violence aura Stella has as a character. 

Betsy

I saw the opening preview of this play and despite some technical problems and a very late  ending, I thoroughly enjoyed it. I came to this production new to the story of Blanche, I have since watched the film and I can say that this cast is strong, if not stronger then Brandon and co. 


Anderson's Blanche is more sassy and tempestuous then Jessica Tandy's portrayal -that makes more sense to my modern mind. Ben Foster is incredibly both lovable and loath-able as Stanley and his chemistry with Vanessa is paramount to your understanding to why Stella would stay with such a brute. 


I am bias to  anything Anderson does because to me the women is perfection, however I came away from this production in love with the entire cast. I cannot wait to see the finale production in September, and it will be interesting to see if the characterization changes throughout the run.