On Tuesday 16th September, as a part of the National Theatre Live programme, Tennessee Williams’ classic play A Street Car Named Desire was screened to cinema audiences globally. This collaborative programme of bringing the theatre into cinemas has flourished over the past year, significantly increasing the play’s audience. One can now enjoy a Young Vic production hundreds of miles away from where it is performed in London in the cheaper and more comfortable environs of one’s local cinema.
Directed by Joshua Andrews, this all-star production is the fastest selling play in the Young Vic’s history and was the ideal candidate for its first ever live broadcast.
It stars Gillian Anderson as the infamous protagonist Blanche Du Bois, a woman down on her luck who finds herself on the doorstep of her younger sister Stella, played by Vanessa Kirby. In turn Stella finds herself trapped between her sister and her brutal, magnetic husband; the volatile Stanley, played by Ben Foster. Blanche’s arrival triggers a sequence of events that leads toward an almost inevitable, tragic conclusion, as family secrets and behaviours are bought struggling into the open.
The trio work excellently together, sparking off each other and evoking the heat of 1940’s New Orleans. For Anderson this is a career defining role as she delivered one of her finest performances yet.
Williams’ knack for humour and the New Orleans vernacular keep the play from falling into melodrama, as the characters delve into the danger of desire and a violent sexuality that typifies the production.
Andrews made the interesting decision to use a slowly rotating stage so that every audience member would have a slightly different perspective. As the stage moves Blanche’s world spirals out of control and the audience are invited directly inside this little world. This particular effect may have worked excellently in the theatre but its impact was minimal on screen. The camera crew have to be commended for doing an excellent job at catching the action and atmosphere unfolding on the stage.
Further clever lighting work and a modern soundtrack adds an edge of danger and drama at pivotal moments. The scaffolding structure of their home sometimes feels more like a prison, reflecting the way in which the characters have been trapped and held still in the sweltering heat by their sticky pasts and raw emotions.
This production of A Streetcar Named Desire is gripping and fast-paced, and successfully captures the spirit of Tennessee Williams’ classic work. The concept of screening the production in cinemas across the world was a novel and interesting idea. While it significantly widens the scope that theatre has, some effects don’t translate to the screen in the way they do to a live audience. Despite this, the production is well acted and innovative, and adds another dimension to the idea of theatre.