This 2014 production at the Young Vic directed by Benedict Andrews had at its heart a superb performance by Gillian Anderson as Blanche DuBois but the filmed version currently being streamed for a week on National Theatre live on You Tube does reveal why as a production it was less than successful. As a record of a performance it is splendid and, although he does go on and on – two hours and fifty minutes and no theatre 20 minute interval to revive one – is frankly a slog. The famous film with Brando and Leigh is far shorter and basically cut to the chase. However taken as a record of a production this version is well worth catching.
Andrews sets the action on an oblong [platform which can revolve so that the audience gets different views of the action which takes place inside a skeletal construction showing the Kowalsky’s two room apartment – living room, a bedroom and a bathroom – and occasionally the actors descend from the apartment to walk the stage on which the revolve is situated. The audience curves round in a semi circle. But this means that every now and then, because the camera has a different view, you suddenly see a member of the audience looming up in the background, a totally unwarranted intruder and not one you would have seen had you been watching the play in the audience. Had you been the chances are yourview would have been variable. The stage lighting also means that occasionally faces get obscured and, because it is miked, there are those intrusive little wires that recording requires which always damage reality.
It has also been updated although not quite clearly to just when – post the mobile phone arrival however, which does rather jar – and I don’t honestly know why. Maybe it is that the revelations about just what it was that tipped Blanche into her dream world are not quite today what they would have been when the play was first staged, and are not all in the film anyway – filmed Williams always omits the gay elements, implying them at best.
Anderson – even if the strident deep south accent gets wearisome – creates a deeply damaged, sad, foolish and betrayed woman and her descent into madness is beautifully judged. Ben Foster as Stanley is a hunk, but no Brando, a lack of magnetism which actually does the play no damage, and he manages to not be just a brutal wife abuser who assaults his sister in law, which could easily have been the case. Venessa Kirby as sister Stella is a perfect foil, a woman also escaping from that deep south mansion past, and Corey Johnspm. as the hapless Mitch who thinks Blanche might be the woman to save him from a life alone after his ailing mother dies, is a man every bit in need of love as she is.
Tim Ramsden reviews this for us in 2014 and the cast and production details are with his review. It is well worth re-reading him. He had his reservations – I saw it without reading him.
Picture: Alastair Muir.