A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE
22/05/2020 - 28/05/2020
As Blanche’s fragile world crumbles, she turns to her sister Stella for solace – but her downward spiral brings her face to face with the brutal, unforgiving Stanley Kowalski.
‘I don’t want realism. I want magic!’
Gillian Anderson (The X-Files, The Fall, Sex Education) plays Blanche DuBois with Ben Foster (Lone Survivor, Kill Your Darlings) as Stanley and Vanessa Kirby (The Crown, Mission Impossible 7) as Stella.
Watch A Streetcar Named Desire for free with Gillian Anderson as Blanche from:
(UK time ) Thursday 21 May at 7pm until 28 May at 7pm.
(NZ time) Friday 22 May at 6am until 29 May 2020 at 6am
Here is the YouTube Link
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Gillian Anderson as Blanche DuBois
Vanessa Kirby as Stella Kowalski
Ben Foster as Stanley Kowalski
Clare Burt as Eunice Hubbel
Branwell Donaghey as Steve
Troy Glasgow as Pablo
Lachele Carl as Mexican Woman
Otto Farrant as Young Collector
Nicholas Gecks as Doctor
Stephanie Jacob as Nurse
Claire Prempeh as Woman
Webcast , Theatre ,
Rich with relevance
Review by Emilie Hope 22nd May 2020
I wake at an ungodly hour, walk into my lounge, pyjamas, blanket, and hot water bottle in tow, plug the HDMI cable in, get to YouTube and begin my National Theatre Live at Home experience. Thankfully, the National Theatre and Young Vic production of Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire is captivating and intriguing enough to fool me into thinking its 7pm, rather than the 6am New Zealand time.
We open on a stylish, modern home, filled with what looks like Ikea staples: it’s not the richest place in the world, but it needn’t feel like that. There are no real walls in this rectangular stage/home, only door frames. Bare lightbulbs hang from the ceiling. The audience are placed in the round against the stage, which strikes me at first as being odd, but later I see that the stage is able to revolve. The design by Magda Willi is exceptional – functional and symbolic: we see these characters have little to no privacy; the only door in the place is to the bathroom, the shower has a thick pink curtain, and there’s only a light white curtain separating the double bed from the open plan lounge, dining, and kitchenette.
The lighting, designed by Jon Clark, is at times incredibly subtle, and other times – such as the scene transitions – completely stark, showing the topsy-turvy nature of the play. The sound by Paul Arditti is subtle and manages to immerse you in the world. Similarly the music, by Alex Baranowski, is an excellent array: a mix of a noir-style and low-fi, throwing you right in. The costumes, by Victoria Behr, are simultaneously both dated and modern, creating a perfect ahistorical feel for the play as it’s brought to a modern time while harkening back to the time in which it was written. (It premiered in 1947 and this production was live at the National in 2014.)
For those of you who don’t know Streetcar, it’s a sad, twisted story. Blanche DuBois (Gillian Anderson) comes to visit her sister Stella (Vanessa Kirby) – the DuBois being a once wealthy family – after she was asked to take a leave of absence in her job as a school teacher. Stella has recently married Stanley Kowalski (Ben Foster), a proud American who is used to being thought of as king of his home. The neighbourhood is not an affluent one and the play deals with men’s drunkenness and domestic violence which, while initially seen as despicable, doesn’t lead to any kind of change in relationships. It is presented as a sort of way of life, and comes about often when the women make reasonable demands or ask to be shown more respect.
Blanche struggles to face the realities of her life, choosing to create wild stories instead of being honest about her financial situation and her emotional trauma, and this leads to her becoming more of a drunken mess as the play goes on. In a more subtle way, Stella also is not willing to face reality. After Stanley, drunk after his poker game, hits Stella, she and Blanche retreat to Eunice Hubbel (Clare Burt), the upstairs neighbour. Stanley is stripped and placed in the bath by his friends, and he ends up calling Stella’s name in the street, crawling on the ground in his underwear.
“You can’t just beat a woman and call her back!” shouts Eunice, taking a stronger stand against him than Stella herself. As Stella climbs down the steel staircase, she has an almost childlike anxiety about her, hopping from one foot to another as though the steel were hot underfoot. The two embrace and she hopelessly slaps his shoulders, still crying, in pain but simultaneously in love. They entangle themselves together and Blanche almost stops them but doesn’t. She admits to Harold ‘Mitch’ Mitchell (Corey Johnson), one of Stanley’s friends who later becomes Blanche’s beau, that she’s terrified.
“Oh there’s nothing to be afraid of – they’re crazy about each other,” he replies, as though love can heal a cracked lip; that this kind of behaviour is acceptable because they’re in love – that’s just how it is for these people. Blanche is, rightly so, not buying it. In the morning, Stella is cleaning up the mess and Blanche tells her she shouldn’t. “Who’s gonna do it? Are you? Didn’t think so.” Stella is trapped in this life, where she’s not respected and can be thrown around as easily as a doll but she stays because she’s in love with Stanley and, honestly, does not have all that many other options. She normalises it, so that when Blanche tries to press the point about Stanley’s abusive behaviour, she says, “You’re making much too much fuss about it.”
The way director Benedict Andrews has decided to stage the sexual scenes shows care and art. When Stella and Stan make up, they wrestle with one another, Stella still pushing Stan, Stan grabbing her wrists. Stella sits on the bed, then Stan stands over her, holding her neck. When he walks into the bathroom, leaving her in the bed, she writhes and moves as though the two of them are having sex. This shows the audience the absolute spell Stella is under. Stanley doesn’t even need to be in the room for her to be completely mesmerised by him.
This interestingly contrasts with the climax of play. I am most intrigued to see how Andrews will approach this. For those of us who know what happens, I am worried it will be too visceral for me, but it is quite the opposite – gentle and quiet. This is refreshing, and I find it to be more artistic and symbolic. I would like to dissect it here, but I will wait to do so in discussions with friends once they have seen it.
I wanted to see this play because of Gillian Anderson, someone I believe to be an underrated and utterly superb actor. Yet I wouldn’t count this as a fantastic production if she were the only strong actor. The entire cast is incredible. It’s hard to believe this is not an American production, given the accents – no doubt thanks to the voice coach Richard Ryder and dialect coach Rick Lipton.
For me, Stan will never be a truly likeable character but Foster is able to give him some charming moments which show his depth. Kirby does Stella true justice. She is able to perform her subtleties, showing her similarities with her sister Blanche, yet also showing Stella’s individuality. Compared to Blanche and Stan, Stella seems to not have nearly as many lines, and some actors could treat her as a lesser character. But Kirby shows us how central Stella is to the dynamic of the play and by the end she is still able to display her complicated feelings in a way that shows she is a different Stella than who we saw in the first scene. I’m not sure that I’ve ever seen an actor show that Stella grows throughout the play as Kirby does.
And Anderson – it’s almost as though the role was written for her. Through her, we are charmed by Blanche, we see her point of view, we’re frustrated when she leads herself down a destructive path, and our heart breaks by the end. One of the reasons I connect with Blanche this time around is that she’s a woman who wants to imagine herself out of her current situation – and, right now, who wouldn’t want to do that? Who wouldn’t want to imagine a time out of lockdown, where you are prosperous, where unemployment rates aren’t getting bigger and bigger by the day, where you can be shown love by people outside of your bubble? This time around, I’ve understood Blanche’s preference for fantasy on a whole new level. Truly, this is a roller coaster of a performance and Anderson delivers it with so much grace and dignity, making it a truly powerful performance.
Thinking about A Streetcar Named Desire, I question its relevance today but that does a disservice to the text. Watching it now, I think about the role of women, abusive relationships, poverty and the “American dream” – which in Streetcar means money and prestige – mental health and our willingness to fantasise. There is a lot packed into this play, and I would encourage everyone to see it, now available on YouTube for a week.
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