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Young Vic – ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ National Theatre Live – Review

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Firstly, I totally love the play, ‘A Streetcar Named desire’, it is as relevant today as it was when it was first written and performed. In production, the biggest problem is how do you beat Marlon Brando and Vivien Leigh?

Before the start of the play, as the audience in the cinema, we got to look at a film of the set. At the Young Vic they had used the round, and as the play was performed the concept included the turning of the stage to allow the audience to see the performance from different angles. As we were party to camera shots, I cannot really comment on the impact of this, but it did enhance the performance as a ‘viewer’.

New Orleans, and particularly ‘The Quarter’ is almost a character itself in the play, and on looking at the set – which had appeared to involved a big trip to Ikea for a full refurbishment, dismayed us initially. How were they going to modernise it? Have they kept New Orleans as the setting? The industrial structure worked in that the cube it created allowed for the stair case, and it allowed the audience to witness the scenes from a variety of angles. The use of the music of New Orleans, and the trains and the cats screeching are all used to represent Blanche’s descent into madness. In the early stages they replaces this with a variety of more modern music to reflect the changes in tone of the play – until the end of the play where the references to the polka music couldn’t be ignored – to our relief!

Gillian Anderson as Blanche played the role extremely well. She had the ‘faded beauty’, the ‘star’ quality, and the supreme self confidence to lay herself bare in such a way. In this, the similarities to Vivien Leigh were strong enough for her to be a match for her performance. My only criticism was that her voice was loud throughout, it didn’t seem to change or vary in volume – and I know this is an acceptable interpretation of Blanche’s behaviour, but both her presence and her voice totally dominated the play. I am still not sure if this was her, or whether it was the production sound.

Clare Burt as Stella played a fair part, but her accent did stray in places. Ben Forster as Stanley had the most difficult act to follow. It was a fair interpretation of the part. He had the brooding anger, and the underlying violence, and the ‘caveman’ persona needed to play Stanley. It was also very physical, and his toned physique was most definitely on show to reflect Stanley’s dominance. Nevertheless, as my friend said, ‘He’s no Marlon Brando’. His understated performance did allow Anderson to dominate as Blanche, and as a consequence gave the audience an alternative interpretation of the play. Unfortunately, he was lacking in the ‘desire’ stakes. He reminded me of a bulked up Ashley – Fred Eliot’s son from ‘Coronation Street’.

In the interval we were shown a short film of everyone having a great time in the bar at the Young Vic, demonstrating just how great the whole experience is for the audience. Unfortunately, sitting in Cineworld in Boldon didn’t quite match, and left us feeling like the poor northern relations where they let us watch, but had not actually invited us to the party. The other issue is the live broadcast scenario – it is a definite opportunity to see a play performed by a cast based in London, in a London theatre. Nevertheless, without the sounds, smells, interaction with the audience, it is a strange beast, neither theatre nor cinema. The sound dipped in places – leading to gasps in our audience, especially when it was in Blanche’s key speech when she describes her relationship with Gray. It came back quickly enough, but it could have been a disaster.

Overall, the brilliance of Anderson’s performance was clearly evident, and I am glad I have seen it. I just wish I could have really been there!