This 2014 Young Vic Theatre production is as heartbreaking as it is powerful to watch.
With his production of this classic play by Tennessee Williams, Benedict Andrews powerfully captures all the central themes of the play including the dangers of fantasising, loneliness and mental illness.
A Streetcar Named Desire follows the story of Blanche who travels to New Orleans to visit her sister Stella and husband Stanley. What the audience sees over the course of three hours is the way in which Blanche’s (who prefers to live a life in fantasy to protect herself) world comes crumbling down thanks to the increasing tension between herself and Stanley.
There is a brutal rawness to this play which in places can be shocking to watch, not only in the language but in way that Blanche and Stella are treated by Stanley with the threat of violence simmering underneath the surface. Through his production, director Benedict Andrews manages to capture this by creating a really claustrophobic atmosphere, helped by the almost prison inspired set by Magda Willi that reveals how all of the characters are trapped in this situation.
Willi’s set design is also extremely clever in the way even on the screen you can see how it has been designed to offer different perspectives of each character from every angle. By doing this the audience gets a real sense of each of the character’s motivations and the impact of each situation that unfolds has on them, adding to the feeling of a cat and mouse game that is happening in front of us. This is particularly felt as Stanley tries to get to the bottom of what exactly happened to the sisters family home Belle Reve – it is a subtle moment that is has plenty of underlying tension that is wonderfully built up. Meanwhile, the use of music enhances the feelings and emotions that begin to emerge – in particular a polka piece that drags up painful memories for Blanche is particularly effective in the later moments of the play to enhance the sense of her mental breakdown.
But it is the electrifying performances from the cast that keep the audience so thoroughly engaged with what unfolds. Unsurprisingly, Gillian Anderson is utterly compelling to watch as Blanche. She gives the character a frantic energy that can’t have been easy to maintain, enhancing just how insecure and vulnerable the character is as you can see from the increasingly energetic and meandering conversations she has with Stella. Yet, all the time you sense the Blanche’s vulnerability hauntingly captured in those final moments in the play that is heartbreaking to watch.
Elsewhere, Ben Foster as Stanley is a constantly menacing presence. His is an angry and frustrated character who distrusts Blanche – but makes for an interesting contrast to the way in which Blanche constantly puts on a show and indulges in fantasies. It is a strong performance that shows that while his attitude and actions are wrong – there is something you can understand about his arguments about Blanche. Vanessa Kirby completes the trio at the centre of the story, offering a delicate performance that works well in showcasing Stella’s relationships with her sister and husband – ultimately how she is placed in an awkward situation.
Overall, this is a powerful and mesmerising production that has a claustrophobically intense atmosphere that effectively brings this story to life.
By Emma Clarendon
A Streetcar Named Desire is available to watch until the 28th May.