NT Live again brings the thrill of London theatre to Melbourne with their screening of Tennessee Williams’ classic, A Streetcar named Desire. Well known to most theatre goers, this text never fails to sadden or shock us. This production at the Young Vic directed by Australian, Benedict Andrews, is refreshing, suitably sexy and unnerving – just as all Williams’ work should be.
The most exciting things about this production are the set and costumes plus the performance of Vanessa Kirby (playing Stella) and Ben Foster (Stanley). The play is performed in-the-round and the actual playing space is a long rectangular piece of stage which revolves like one giant hand on an analogue clock. This helps the audience to see all sides but more importantly helps in creating the chaos and dizziness of many sections of the play.
The overall design is contemporary; finger pressing phones, Louis Vuitton luggage, a coffee dripolator all nod to the present and this breathes a whole lot of new life into this play without becoming kitsch or taking away anything of its powerful force. In fact, Stella and Stanley’s apartment looks like the typical Ikea family nest. It is all white, quite clinical, and modestly furnished. So as not to detract from the action, this setting is neutral and secondary. It is almost like a science laboratory, holding those within it up to scrutiny and experimentation. What is the outcome of behaving like a brute, being dishonest, slipping into delusional states?
Kirby and Foster are electric on stage. The chemistry between lovers is very evident. They are incredibly sexy and cannot get enough of each other and at the same time the strong emotional love between them is portrayed so well. Foster simulates performing oral sex on Kirby during the play; a very intimate and provocative piece of direction from Benedict Andrews. The drunken and violent scene between them is appropriately horrible and the subsequent making up scene is believable and quite heartfelt. Foster writhes around on all fours in the street wearing only his fitted boxer briefs wailing and beckoning her to descend from Steve and Eunice’s apartment with that famous cry ‘Stella!’ Foster looks rough and is unshaven.
Foster is tattooed, has short sandy blond hair and parades around in the currently fashionable combat trousers. He plays the caged and pikey brute male well but also can carry off some semblance of kindness. Members of the audience are drawn to him and we catch ourselves liking him in spite of his unattractive and brutal ways. We see him feeling very hurt when he overhears Blanche’s tirade about him being common. Also, when he sexually assaults Blanche, his darker side taking over, there is a sense of twisted triumph on Blanche’s part that she has manipulated him into doing something so monstrous, something that Stanley never intended to do. An intriguing perverse moment!
46-year-old American actress Gillian Anderson, who now resides in Britain, plays a prowling, feline type Blanche. Anderson has the right mix of femme fatale and canary-bird vulnerability for her interpretation of Blanche DuBois. Her southern accent grinds on us toward the end of the play; Blanche always having the last say. Anderson’s Blanche annoys us, makes us cry and excites us. Her scenes with Mitch (Corey Johnson) are well played enough albeit a little slow in pace. Johnson plays a perfect Mitch, a teddy bear, needy but loveable.
The NT Live camera does justice to this production. The continual moment of the stage and the fine close-ups at the right times, all display just how skilled these cameramen are.
NT Live at Nova and selected cinemas.
Commences December 13th