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Streetcar named desire young vic review

Gillian Anderson is electrifying as Blanche DuBois, Tennessee Williams's most famous creation. For all her sensuous appeal, this pretentious schoolteacher is a lonely figure, acting out a series of romantic delusions, and Anderson stunningly articulates her mix of carefully preserved glamour and neurotic fragility.

Australian director Benedict Andrews has moved the action from the raffishly charming New Orleans of the Forties to a modern setting that’s much less genteel. It’s a decision that pays off. Although we see all the props Williams mentions in the text, there’s no sense of this being a fusty period piece and the play’s portrait of domestic violence has never seemed so immediate and brutal.

Magda Willi’s rectangular set feels like a prison, a metal frame containing simple furniture. It revolves for almost all of the production’s three and a quarter hours, suggesting Blanche’s spiralling descent into derangement. It also heightens the impression that the audience are voyeurs – at times we strain to see what’s going on and become uncomfortably conscious of our own prurience.

The heavy use of revolve, combined with a few thunderous bursts of music, left me feeling as if I had a bad case of motion sickness. Yet it creates some startling moments of intimacy as well as fluid transitions between scenes.

What’s more, Andrews has decided to place a particular emphasis on Blanche’s sister Stella. Married to thuggish salesman Stanley, Stella is typically portrayed as down-to-earth but here comes across as a seething mass of urges. Blanche and Stanley seem to compete for her, and Vanessa Kirby’s eloquent performance conveys her warmth while also revealing her neediness. Meanwhile Ben Foster is explosive as Stanley, tattooed and menacing, and there’s a lovely measured contribution from Corey Johnson as Mitch, the momma’s boy who forms an unlikely and short-lived connection with Blanche.

This is a gripping and disorientating production, which makes us work hard but allows Williams’s play to feel bracingly fresh. It captures his highly perfumed lyrical style while evoking the raw energy of desire. In the lead Anderson is simply unmissable, and the direction is admirably thoughtful and bold. For those who can’t make it along to the Young Vic, the show will be broadcast to more than 550 UK cinemas on September 16 as part of the National Theatre’s Live programme.

Until September 19 (020 7922 2922, youngvic.org)

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streetcar named desire young vic review A Streetcar Named Desire - National Theatre Live

What’s more, Andrews has decided to place a particular emphasis on Blanche’s sister Stella. Married to thuggish salesman Stanley, Stella is typically portrayed as down-to-earth but here comes across as a seething mass of urges. Blanche and Stanley seem to compete for her, and Vanessa Kirby’s eloquent performance conveys her warmth while also revealing her neediness. Meanwhile Ben Foster is explosive as Stanley, tattooed and menacing, and there’s a lovely measured contribution from Corey Johnson as Mitch, the momma’s boy who forms an unlikely and short-lived connection with Blanche.

This is a gripping and disorientating production, which makes us work hard but allows Williams’s play to feel bracingly fresh. It captures his highly perfumed lyrical style while evoking the raw energy of desire.

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