Sex sells — and in the case of A Streetcar Named Desire, it’s the destructive side of it that is the strangely compelling proposition of this Pulitzer-winning play. In the latest London production, Gillian Anderson nails it as Blanche duBois — one of Tennessee Williams’ most perceptively and painfully-wrought female heroines.
Director Benedict Andrews has chosen to set this Streetcar in the present day. We rather enjoy 1940s deep south settings for Tennessee W, but Andrews provides a refreshing twist. A starkly-furnished set suggests a contemporary Mississippi flat, inviting us to be voyeurs for the night — the set’s gradual rotation exposing and sometimes obscuring characters. At times this can be a barrier for the claustrophobia we should share with them, yet at others, it creates a moving prison that words bounce off with new-found resonance.
Anderson is the star, not because she’s famous but because she has buckets of sex appeal, charm and fragility contained in her strikingly tiny figure. Her Blanche is an endlessly interesting woman, pulling out of the hat a string of dark, fascinating secrets. Blanche’s misadventures in love have given her wisdom, evident in her impassioned advice to sister Stella, yet there are flip sides — the addiction to flirtation as she kisses the post boy, and her nerves which make her do crazy things like take hot baths in searing heat. With Anderson, it’s all here in the little actions and self-contained-ness of her presence.
The supporting cast is also excellent, particularly Ben Foster as the thuggish Stanley, whom Blanche’s sister has married seemingly out of physical addiction. Vanessa Kirby conveys a clumsy energy with her Stella, and a blithe willingness to bat away her problems of domestic violence. It’s a parallel and contrast to Blanche, whose extreme sensitivity has not gifted her with such a shield — as the tragic developments of the play will reveal.
Chilling, despite the steamy nature of its subject, this is a play that sets out to expose desire and sex as a motivating and yet destructive force. Not for nothing is the streetcar in question named desire. This production will take you on a journey not easily forgotten, all the way to its awful conclusion.
A Streetcar Named Desire is at the Young Vic until 19 September. Day seats are available or you can book in advance. The show will be broadcast live from the Young Vic to over 550 UK cinemas, and many more worldwide, on 16 September as part of National Theatre Live.
Londonist saw the play on a complimentary review ticket.