Blanche DuBois – arguably one of the greatest roles of modern theatre – returned to the London stage this summer in a critically acclaimed revival of Tennessee Williams’ masterpiece A Streetcar Named Desire.
On September 16, this memerising production was beamed direct from the Young Vic to cinema screens as part of NT Live, the National Theatre’s ongoing commitment to bring the best of British theatre to a wider audience. And director Benedict Andrews’ reworking of the play certainly packed one hell of a punch, what with the casual violence and psychological wrangling played out between the three main characters: Blanche, her sister Stella and Stella’s husband Stanley.
Gillian Anderson (yes, she of cult TV show The X-Files) was utterly brilliant in her portrayal of liquor-guzzling fantasist Blanche, a woman who starts by losing her home and ends by losing her mind. As her tormentor, Ben Foster totally inhabited the unpleasant character of Stanley Kowalski, a bully with a talent for both mental and physical cruelty. The toxic triangle was completed by Vanessa Kirby as passive yet needy Stella, constantly manipulated by her brutish husband and seemingly delicate sister.
Transplanted from the 1940s to a contemporary in-the-round setting, the action took place on a revolving stage that provided an unsettling perspective of both the cast and theatre audience. The Kowalski’s cramped New Orleans apartment was open on all sides, reminiscent of those fake room layouts favoured by home improvement stores. Nothing that happened within could go unnoticed. To add to the tension, scene changes were accompanied by a nerve-jangling mash-up of blues, jazz and Chris Isaak.
Hailed as the performance of Anderson’s career, A Streetcar Named Desire was the fastest-selling production in the history of the Young Vic. The London run has now come to an end but keep an eye on your local cinema listing for encore screenings of the NT Live performance.
It is quite simply unmissable.