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A Streetcar Named Desire: Young Vic Theatre

September 3, 2014

(seen at the afternoon performance on 30th August 2014).

“They shouldn’t allow a pregnant woman to climb on a chair to hang decorations,” I thought to myself – only seconds later remembering that Vanessa Kirby had only strapped on Stella Kowalski’s “baby bump” during the interval, and was doing something they call “acting.” Brilliantly.

Miss Kirby’s performance is just one of a clutch making the production very special indeed. Her on-stage (see, I’m getting it right, now) husband Ben Foster’s clear thinking Stanley Kowalski and Corey Johnson’s humble Mitch also deserve equal prominence, and the supporting roles of Nurse, Doctor and Woman are nicely filled by Stephanie Jacob, Nicholas Gecks and Claire Prempeh. I did also wonder if Otto Farrant was paid for playing the Young Collector; given what he gets every night, it would seem greedy to demand cash too… but moving swiftly on…

…To the reason all the tickets were sold (probably). Gillian Anderson in the West End again. Sporting a huge plaster just below the knee (exclusive, from an usher: she knelt on a broken plate at Tuesday’s performance – the fact she missed Wednesday was down to personal illness alone, apparently) her take on Blanche Dubois is fascinating.

Ms Anderson settles on a low simmer for much of the evening – just occasionally giving a flash of what lies beneath the surface. Her final scenes are therefore more impactful for leaving the audience feeling that they should have spotted the signs of distress far earlier. The pain of her final circle around the stage is thus considerably more intense for those watching, and a reminder of just what a fine play this really is.

The quality of Benedict Andrews direction is beyond doubt too. Clarity of character shines from every actor, each word and action is natural, and we feel no artifice observing these lives.

This lead to curiosity at the staging. So much so that for the first time ever, I actually emailed the theatre to check some technical details. SPOILER ALERT for those who have not seen it, the production is set in an apartment. Fire escape, combined kitchen / dining / bedroom area (curtain to divide the bedroom as required) and a bathroom. The whole oblong on a revolve which is almost constantly in motion.

It makes for difficult viewing, as scenes you’d like to see are sometimes obscured. Yet there’s no doubt that the movement (at varying speeds) clockwise for “reality,” anti-clockwise for when Blanche descends into fantasy adds to the interpretation.

As the Technical Director kindly explained, “We have no upstage or downstage or indeed stage left or right on this show.  Our fixed points are the 4 entrance doors to the space numbered 1 to 4, and the metal docking platform that aligns with the staircase.  It’s lively, and the actors often make entrances from different doors each night depending exactly where the revolve is; the revolve cues are not fixed, they react to the show.” SPOILER ENDS.

This, for me, explained away why the piece seemed so natural, despite such a complicated staging. The cast required to think, and no two performances the same, no wonder the randomness of their lives can be so beautifully exposed.

I had only two other quibbles with the design in the end. Twice the script refers to things which weren’t picked up – it wouldn’t have taken much to add buttons to a dress, nor figure out how to explain the position of the bathroom, as the text required.

Otherwise, this exceptional cast and highly original presentation are well worth catching either live or during one of its cinema showings.

  1. Clive permalink
    September 3, 2014 2:29 pm

    Yet they could plumb in the sink and the bath and attend to the detail of adding and then removing the third toothbrush from the bathroom at the appropriate times!

    Had £10 front row seats for this which were fantastic value. Their policy of having a maximum ticket price of £35 (I think) and no booking fees; and similar price schemes by others such as The Royal Court really just emphasise the ridiculousness of some of the theatre prices you have mentioned in the past.

    • Steve Rich permalink*
      September 3, 2014 2:56 pm

      I know, it was really odd the things they included and missed. I put it down to dizziness from the set…

      Amazing value indeed. I just counted myself lucky to get a ticket at all, and to be fair, it was nice having them all swish past me as the entered and exited “in character.” Bit like “Cats,” but with shorter tails…

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