Wednesday, 17 September 2014

'A Streetcar Named Desire' - NTLive at the Curzon Victoria

This evening was a showing of the new production of 'A Streetcar Named Desire' at the Young Vic as part of the National Theatre Live project, showing live shows simultaneously in cinemas around the country. In my case it was at the new Curzon Victoria cinema deep down in the bowels of the sub-sub basement under Victoria Street. Now, I quite like the NTLive thing - if you can't get a ticket (and 'Streetcar' is sold out for the entire run) then this is a good way of seeing the play and see what the fuss was about. We saw the Donmar's 'Coriolanus' at Brixton Ritzy and that worked ok, so why not? Except for the play.

I am not a fan of Tennessee Williams and not a fan of this play. I saw it five years ago at the Donmar with Rachel Weiss as Blanche and didn't enjoy it. Acting by shouting, I said back then, and it was the same tonight. Is it written into the original stage directions to shout as loudly and relentlessly as possible? Shouting, bullying, simmering violence, wife beating and rape don't make for nice people or a nice experience. Not everything needs to be nice of course but this is just so relentlessly vile. The only remotely nice people are Stella (the sister) and Mitch (the would-be lover) and they suffer most from Blanche and Stanley.

But I'm running ahead of myself here. I must comment on the staging. O yes, I must. The stage revolved for some obscure reason. I mean, why? If you're going to do it in the round then do it in the round, not in the round with a revolving stage thrown in as well. It seemed like every time Blanche went into meltdown mode then she'd be obscured by a shower curtain or a mirror or something. What's that all about? The Young Vic is an interesting space that is very versatile and it's nice that they experiment with it but a see-through set that fails to be see-through at critical moments is a bit pointless really.

Perhaps I should cut to the chase and say that Gillian Anderson was excellent. I saw her in 'A Doll's House' (coincidentally) five years ago at the Donmar and thought she was excellent in that. What is it about the Donmar five years ago? As she spiralled into alcoholic madness in the second half she drew the audience in and it sort of felt like she was with us, the audience, rather than the other characters on stage at the time. We were in her make-believe world with her, the Southern belle with her gentlemen admirers. She's a class act.

I also liked Vanessa Kirby as Stella, Blanche's younger sister who continually makes allowances for and defends her sister. She was very sympathetic and distraught at the end when Blanche is taken away. I was less keen on Ben Foster as Stanley the wife-beater whose role seemed to be to take his clothes off as often as possible. Why? Wander round in a vest all you like but when it all starts to come off time and again it gets bit dull. How many times do you need to change your trousers? He did very good menace though.

The production aside, it's the play that's the problem for me. I just don't like it. At half-time we ran through the Williams plays I've seen and I only liked 'The Rose Tattoo' and that was probably because of Zoe Wannamaker being in it at the National Theatre. I saw 'The Glass Menagerie' in Toronto (I nodded off) and at the Young Vic and 'The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore' in New York. Never again. I sort of liked 'Spring Storm' at the National Theatre a few years ago - or at least I liked bits of it and it was short. Me and Tennessee don't mix I'm afraid.

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