By Neil Durham
WORTH A LOOK?: *****
WHEN?: Tuesday 20 December, opens 12 January, runs to 4 February 2023 RUNTIME: 180 minutes (including 20-minute interval) UPDATE: Transfers to the Phoenix Theatre in London’s West End for 6 weeks from 20 March 2023
Director Rebecca Frecknall (Cabaret, Playhouse Theatre) takes to the stage before curtain up to explain that its leading lady Patsy Ferran stepped into the production with 4 days’ notice to replace Lydia Wilson who had to withdraw.
- Read on for reasons including why it is Olivier Award-winning actress Ferran that you will remember most from this illuminating revival
Ferran does carry a notebook with her throughout most of this 3rd preview of the revival of the Tennessee Williams classic which we last saw Gillian Anderson star in at the Young Vic in 2014 but she barely glances at it.
It’s an extraordinary, fearless performance and although Ferran appears too young to do full justice to her character Blanche DuBois’ fading glamour she’s the best reason to see this memorable Streetcar despite some stiff competition.
We suspect most of the young female audience is here to see Mescal as Blanche’s brutish brother-in-law Stanley Kowalski in his 1st stage role since he won our 2020 Best TV/Film Actor monsta for Normal People and was shortlisted for the same award this year for the memorable Aftersun.
Marlon Brando played Kowalski in the 1951 film of Streetcar and Mescal gives an impressively animalistic performance in a role which requires menace quite different to the work with which he has most recently made his name.
Frecknall won awards for previous Williams’ interpretation Summer And Smoke at this venue again with Ferran at its heart and we love the stylistic emphasis on Blanche’s aversion to natural light and her enthusiasm for covering the naked lightbulb in the cramped two-roomed apartment she shares with her sister and her husband with a gaudy red Chinese lantern-like lampshade.
Like Frecknall’s last big hit Cabaret which has run at the Playhouse Theatre for over a year, this Streetcar is in the round, although not with a slow revolve as the Young Vic production memorably had.
We’re in the 3rd row and actors cross the stage from 4 entrances with a water feature enabling rain to fall around it while characters are also able to run around it close to the audience.
Live drums are used here to eccentuate the threat of domestic violvence at the heart of the piece and there is even a woman singing sombrely into a microphone which reminds of the artistic flourish of Summer And Smoke.
The story may well be familiar: you join us in 40s New Orleans as Blanche, a former Mississippi Southern belle, visits her sister and her husband to stay with them because things have gone none too well for her back home.
Anjana Vasan as Blanche’s sister Stella has a lot to do to convince about the attraction of her relationship with her menacing husband complete here with mullet and occasionally wifebeater vest.
Things unravel for Ferran’s Blanche and although Mescal’s character is complicit in her mental health decline it’s intriguing that Mescal continues to explore this theme in his work albeit from a completely different angle here.
By the time Blanche gets to deploy her classic line about relying ‘on the kindness of strangers’, any notion that Ferran might struggle here has been completely dispelled.
What we are left with is an outstanding performance at the heart of a classic piece thoughtfully reimagined which will only go from strength to sterngth before its press night next month.
- Main picture via Facebook courtesy Almeida Theatre Tickets
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