Young Vic – ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ review

A captivating display of the Southern Gothic genre; Tennessee Williams’ ‘A streetcar named desire’ was as exemplary an exhibit of dramaturgy today as it was in 1947, when published, this time at the hands of Benedict Andrews and Nick Wickham. Themes of delusion, desire, gender and so much more, were expertly tackled, along with the sounds and sights of the production that packed the theatre with an audience who were encapsulated for three hours long, by the tale that unfolded before them.

Vast amounts of credit must be given to Harry Guthrie, the production manager, who beautifully translated the spirit of the story from the page to the stage. During the play, the set rotated like a carousel (although this was a decision made by director: Benedict Andrews), and this innovative function perfectly mirrored the chaos that ensued and the unravelling tendencies of Blanche’s mental state that were spinning out of control. The performance utilised the same set throughout, and the compacted capacity of the apartment was very key in generating the increase in pressure and tension, between the characters, as the play went on. If we think of the characters as particles, the miniscule nature of the room meant they would collide with each other, both literally and metaphorically speaking. In regards to the lighting, Williams’ original script was agreed with in terms of the dim lights, which synopsized Blanche’s disdain for the truth, so in this sense nothing was dramatically altered for production, but an important factor nonetheless. When looking at production, Guthrie’s use of props can’t go unmentioned, as the thin, see-through curtain between rooms illustrated well how Stanley saw through Blanche and her facade, as well as the lack of privacy suggested in this place.  All in all, you can’t fault the stage production, as it seamlessly matched the narrative, with all its features combined to create the complete atmosphere. 

Moving on, Alex Baranowski was in charge of the music and sound elements of the production, and although the use of blaring rock music somewhat lessened the sense that you were in 1947 New Orleans, and marred that atmosphere slightly, the use of sound was largely effective here as it did it’s job to subliminally convey Blanche’s emotions. You could rightly argue that the aural features of the production were at their best when left unaltered from Williams’ original vision; the Varsouviana Polka plays at times when Blanche feels remorse or guilt for her husband Allen Grey’s death, and it’s haunting jangle left the audience in a trance, as they could see how it echoed her conscience and the fact that it played increasingly often as the play went on, beautifully foreshadowed her decaying mental state and all that came with it. Tickling the ‘Blue Piano’ right from the start sets the tone of the play rather nicely,  as this, in juxtaposition to the rock music, generates the intended feel of the multicultural New Orleans, in order place the character of Blanche in a position of insecurity and discomfort straight away, as it’s nothing like Belle Reve. 

Thirdly, choice of costume is always a significant factor in any production, so here we must observe the work of Victoria Behr. Once more, Stella’s skinny jeans and crop top don’t seem to fit the 1947 feel of the play, which in some ways detracts from the professionality of the production, however, again there is a lot to credit of her choices relating to costume design, so this is only a minor criticism. Stanley’s outfit stood out to really enhance his animalistic and simple character, where his ‘wife beater’ vest was rather comical in a dark way. His cheap, work clothes elicit a stark contrast between him and Blanche, whilst also showing off Ben Foster’s muscles to place him in a position of power from the offset. Blanche on the other hand wears lavish, over-the-top white dresses, as a false attempt to appear pure and innocent, while her general costumes seem to be much more expensive, and fittingly cast her under a somewhat snobbish light. It must be said that Mitch’s clothing was considerably smarter than Stanley’s, again, to demonstrate the contrast between Mitch’s more gentle nature and Stanley’s beastial qualities. Therefore, other than another questionable choice to try and modernize this classic, Behr must be credited for her brilliant portrayal of each of the main characters here.

Finally, the acting and directing in this version were nothing short of spectacular. As mentioned, Benedict Andrew’s choice to put a modern spin on this classic derives some of the wholesome ambiance, however his casting of the lead actors in many ways gave the play its boundless vigueur. Everything that Gillian Anderson did as Blanche was flawless; from her snobbish and superior walk upon first being there and looking down on the cheapness of it, to her marvellous southern accent and not forgetting her comical skills when required as well, in the way she devoured their liquor whilst maintaining an air of superiority still. Equally, you must credit Andrews for generating a cast wrought with chemistry, which is a necessity for a play filled with such immense sexual desire. Andrews certainly increased the pace of the play, though this is a positive element to it, as it keeps the dramatic motion in full swing for three hours, and never lulls in passion and intensity, and this is also partly in thanks to the wonderful actors. Hollywood star Ben Foster’s depiction of Stanley is perfectly garish and brusque, especially in moments of insecurity, which highlights the character’s low intelligence, while the way he slams doors and charges around the set casts him under the animalistic light that was so intended by Williams. Stella, portrayed by Vanessa Kirby, is notably more still than any other character, representing her ‘no man’s land’ status that both Blanche and Stanley attempt to win over to their side, juxtaposing Blanche’s frantic movements that illustrate greatly her restless state of insecurity.


2 thoughts on “Young Vic – ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ review

  1. Good review. I haven’t seen the play (modernized or not), but I loved the movie!


    1. Thank you! It’s a great production and may be still available on the National Theatre YouTube channel. Worth it 100%.


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