From the screen of the Curzon Richmond, I watched the Encore performance of ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’, recorded live at the Young Vic. As this space can be configured in any way to suit the production, designers and directors always have a free hand, and here Magda Willi’s revolving set allows the audience to eavesdrop on the action within the Kowalskis’ home, a minimalist, clinical pot where poker, Chinese lanterns, and the kindness of strangers mix into the plot.
Benedict Andrews directs this production, and updates the costumes and music to give an additional kick to the potency of Tennessee Williams’ play. So you will hear Chris Isaak’s ‘Wicked Game’ and PJ Harvey’s ‘To Bring You My Love’ (also used in the series 2 opener of Peaky Blinders), alongside Patsy Cline’s ‘Stop The World’ and an original score by Alex Baranowski. Although some reviews have stated this is a minus, as Stanley, Stella and Blanche can only exist in the past, I think it balances out the plot well and makes key scenes in the action more relevant and accessible.
Gillian Anderson’s Blanche Dubois makes her entrance dragging a large pull-along suitcase and wearing shades, tottering into an area she clearly despises, having come from better things. She is a surprise guest at the home of her sister Stella Kowalski (Vanessa Kirby) and Stella’s husband, the brutish Stanley (Ben Foster). Theirs is a passionate relationship fuelled by violence and desire, and Blanche is walking straight into hell.
Corey Johnson as Mitch is a strong supporting character, who you may remember was essayed brilliantly by Karl Malden in the old film. He’s the sympathetic one at the card table, the one with the sick mother, the one who sees a beauty and innocence in Blanche which hides any doubt about her age or past. In one knowing scene which could not have been used in 1951, Mitch and Blanche discuss her marriage and issues around her husband’s ‘degenerate’ nature and eventual suicide. In parallel scenes in each half of the production Mitch hangs up a pink lantern for Blanche, and then rips it down when he discovers her true nature.
The film’s use of close ups occasionally jars when aspects of the revolving set get in the way, but they are used to great effect in places, especially involving Anderson’s transformation from the cool and calm schoolteacher to the lipstick-smudged doll on the edge of insanity. It’s a towering performance which will infuriate, amuse and eventually break your heart. Her interplay with Foster’s Stanley is also very good, and he does not over-dominate proceedings – you know he is there, and you know there is danger when he is about, but he is also content to take second place to Miss Dubois.
Stella is a more problematic character, who seems turned on by domestic violence and who eventually abandons her sister and her principles for the man who has caused everything to collapse, but in Kirby’s portrayal she is very well-rounded and you can see her struggles and her love for her family conflict with her animal passion for her husband.
It’s difficult to fault this performance in any way, and this NT Live production is definitely well worth watching.