The Theatreguide.London Review
In March 2020 the covid-19 epidemic
forced the closure of all British theatres. Some companies adapted
by putting archive recordings of past productions online, others
by streaming new shows. Until things return to normal we review
the experience of watching live theatre onscreen.
Streetcar Named Desire
Young Vic Theatre and National Theatre At Home Spring 2020
When I reviewed this Young
Vic production of Tennessee Williams's drama here in 2014 I had two strong
reservations. This video version, made as part of the National Theatre
Live series made for cinemas, shows that one of my doubts can be
The element that changed is
Gillian Anderson's performance as Blanche Dubois. On Press Night in 2014 I
felt that she simply hadn't found the character yet, and was racing
through the lines with little communication of either their emotional
depth or poetic beauty.
I did express the hope that
her characterisation might develop and deepen with time, and this video
made late in the run shows that it did.
Anderson still doesn't give
me the Blanche I prefer – Williams says the character is exhausted and
operating on the end of her nerves, and Anderson is too strong throughout
– but she does offer a reading that works.
Her Blanche is a woman who
has gotten by all her life on a fey Southern Belle flirtatiousness, and
continues to rely on that mode even though she is getting too old for it
and is more often silly or pathetic than sexy. Put another way, there are
touches of Amanda in The Glass Menagerie to this Blanche, and they do
convey a sad sense of the woman's desperation.
And Anderson has slowed down
her originally frantic delivery of the lines to do full justice to such
moments as her 'Don't hang back with the brutes' aria, the scene with the
paper boy, and her account of her husband's death.
The other element that
bothered me in 2014 was the combination of Magda Willi's set design and
Benedict Andrews's direction.
Having chosen an in-the-round
staging, a director would ordinarily keep the actors moving, even in
mid-speech, so that they'd be showing their faces to everyone. But here
designer Willi put a skeletal structure of the apartment on a
constantly-turning revolve, and director Andrews seemed happy to plant his
actors solidly in one place, relying on the revolve to do his work for
The result was that at every
important moment of the play at least half the audience was looking at the
The video version suggests
that this was not ineptitude but a deliberate attempt to create a
voyeuristic peeping-tom feel in the audience, because even with several
cameras placed around and above the action, the editing repeatedly cuts to
a shot in which a piece of the set passes right in front of an actor's
face at just the moment we want to see it.
The production was marketed as a star vehicle for Gillian Anderson and it is directed that way as well, with Ben Foster's Stanley, Vanessa Kirby's Stella and Corey Johnson's Mitch all played very much as supporting roles, the actors never less than adequate but never allowed to draw attention away from the star.
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