“Brutal Desire”: A Streetcar Named Desire at the Young Vic

Stark. Hollow, with clinical whiteness. The only colour present on the set is a pink shower curtain – it’s like witnessing an Ikea room set produced by a student of 1960s brutalist architecture. Then she arrives, a perfectly coiffured and high heeled Blanche Dubois, the luxurious antithesis to Stella and Stanley’s home.

This a production of contrasts. A Streetcar Named Desire is many things for me – it’s a tale of love, tragedy, a dark comedy, forbidden romance – really, any genre fits within the three hour window of the play.

And this mix of genres is witnessed in the performances of the main cast. Each of the main three performances are timeless, Gillian Anderson and her spectre of lust and the animalistic sex crazed violence of Ben Fosters’ Stanley. These stark contrasts are crucial in the Young Vic’s production of Streetcar. Blanche is almost absent from her scenes, a scream into the void. The young couple of Vanessa Kirkby’s Stella and Stanley however are immediate, a rush of energy – it’s a significant conflict of characterisation that I’ve never imagined existing between the sisters. There is always something more you want to see – knowing the play doesn’t stop the yearning for another tender moment between Blanche and Stella, or for Blanche to get the chance she needs from Mitch – who, it is worth noting, is played with perfect timing and softness from the immensely talented Corey Johnson.

Perhaps this is to do with Anderson’s portrayal of Tennessee Williams’ heroine – gone is the madness unhinged from the outset of Leigh’s portrayal, replaced by an affected charm and a madness of contemporary life. The portrayal of Blanche is almost cinematic, perhaps owing more to Woody Allen and Cate Blanchett than previous portrayals of the actual play. And indeed this contemporary angle is really prevalent throughout every aspect of the production. Even down to the set, which continually rotates. You orbit the world of Elysian Fields, Magda Willi’s masterful set design grabs you and demands your attention. The continual revolutions change in direction, in time with Blanche’s dramatic descent into madness, heightening the suspense.

What director Benedict Andrews has managed to do without damaging the interiority of Tennessee Williams’ most infamous play is modernisation. When Blanche first appears it is wheeling the power luggage you expect to see wheeled up to the BA first class check in Heathrow – topped with the luxury of Louis Vuitton. Vanessa Kirkby arrives with the dishevelled look you might associate with Shameless USA – whilst Ben Foster as Stanley revels in his working class honour. The original play may represent the challenge to old America from the new immigrant population but this production is something different, the one percent versus the rest of us.

Once all the words are said, people return to their own lives – the poker game keeps going. A perfect example of British emotional repression, I am not easily impressed and rarely emotional. However, at the end of this production I was on my feet, tears welling. Gillian Anderson is escorted round the stage by the doctor, looking beyond the stage – lost eyes landing upon empty space. Kirkby’s Stella howls with grief, comforted by the macho and unapologetic Stanley. It’s a harrowing and visceral finale. A pang of sympathy mixed with anger and sadness ripples round the audience as Anderson’s broken Blanche leaves the stage, abandoned by the last vestiges of sanity.

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