We interrupt your regularly scheduled programming for this post, which I couldn’t not write (haha – figure that double negative out!). I did get a running reference in the title though….So if you’ll indulge me for a little bit….
Last night I saw a Streetcar Named Desire at the Young Vic, my newest favourite place in London. This is the second play I’ve seen there, and this old classic was given a modern and extraordinary face lift, starring Gillian Anderson. Classic theatre and GA: a winning combination in my book. I’ve loved The X-Files since I was a teen, as those who knew me at the time will remember… We don’t need to talk about how long ago that was, but suffice it to say that I watched it the first time it aired, back in the day when, if you missed an episode, it would disappear into the black hole, never to be seen again. None of this new-fangled, on-demand stuff. Scully was my height, had red hair (at the time), and kicked ass every week: the perfect role model for a ginger 13 year old girl. If you’re still not convinced, check out this video.
Anyway. The basic story of Streetcar is that Blanche visits her little sister Stella and her husband Stanley in New Orleans. At first she appears to be an alcoholic snob, but as the play goes on you realise she’s actually teetering on the edge of madness – and her brother-in-law is the one to push her over the edge.
Like a pro, I watched without my own fan bias getting in the way – I studied English Lit at uni, dontcha know, and objectivity is the name of the game. The stage was in the middle of the room, with seats all around. Once the play began – as Blanche took her first drink – the stage started to rotate, and rotated slowly throughout the whole performance.
This is the first really cool thing about this production as you always be have a fresh perspective of the characters. What angle you see impacts how you interpret the events and who you sympathise with: when Blanche unleashes a tirade against Stanley to her sister, I saw exactly what he saw: the back of his sister-in-law, hearing her ugly words, and watching his wife’s reaction. It united us with him, and made us spectators feel like we’ve intruded: #awkward. We are more engaged as an audience as we see characters in their ‘down’ time, brushing their teeth for example, at the same time as the main action.
The second cool thing about this play is that it’s set in the modern day. Blanche suffered a trauma with her first true love, and consequently went on a bit of a promiscuity bender. She’s not one for making great choices, but these days I don’t think her sexual past would raise too many eyebrows (apart from her penchant for 17 year olds). So maybe it’s not social rejection that unstabilises her, but the intimate rejection by her lovers, paving the way for the climax. Plus both Stella and Blanche rely on men to provide, posing interesting questions about their place in this ‘modern’ world. Some phrases don’t sit very comfortably today: Blanche refers to the plantation, and calls her gay husband a degenerate. But I think that’s part of the illusion Blanche is desperate to create, and as a result, she’s off-kilter and inappropriate.
And the third cool thing is the cast. Not going to lie: they are all very good to look at, and they had great chemistry. GA is a teeny, tiny person: though we’re the same height, her waist is about as big as my left calf, and her calves tell me she’s not a hill runner, unlike yours truly 😉 She knows her character inside out, and she conveys as much, or maybe more, through what she doesn’t say as through what she does say. Blanche is delicate, manic and manipulative – I wanted to give her a cup of very sweet tea and a big hug. Stella (Vanessa Kirby) has great stage presence, and plays a little sister who’s loathe to be pushed around, but struggles to remain loyal to both Stanley and Blanche. And Ben Foster’s Stanley is well built, has a kind face but a hot head, and his sister-in-law brings out his worst as he forces her to ground her hysterical whimsy in reality. You get the impression he’d prefer not to lash out (until the climax), but doesn’t know how else to react. Blanche’s arrival makes him feel the same as she does – helpless – but instead of withdrawing from reality, he crashes through it leaving devastation in his wake.
And then, the climax. It was so uncomfortable – the rotating stage made you feel like such a voyeur, seeing Blanche’s mental breakdown from all angles as she feels in more and more danger in the place where she sought safety. And it is so tragic: all of these characters desire a meaningful connection with each other, and no one’s happy in the end. Somewhat ironically, it’s the put-upon Stella who seems the most balanced and happy, and those around her are floating in the ether, trying to anchor themselves to her stability.
And then, after the show, GA was kind enough to sign programs for fans. So that was really generous of her, after slowly and publicly going mad for 3.5 hours. The show is being broadcast around the world on September 16 with National Theatre Live, and you can bet your ass I’m going to see it again. It’s the most striking theatre I can remember seeing.
Anyway, thanks for reading. We will resume our normal running-related services from tomorrow.