When Blanche DuBois takes her first gulp of bourbon, the floor lurches beneath her feet. Literally. This is the moment when director Benedict Andrews sets the entire stage revolving, which – at varying speeds and with increasingly frequent reversals of direction – it continues to do for the remainder of the evening. Andrews, having gradually dismantled the physical playing area in his last Young Vic production, a widely lauded revival of Three Sisters, here does the same to our sense of perspective. It also affords all of us (the seating being arranged entirely in the round) moments of close-up intimacy, at the price of others of distance and unintelligibility. What goes around comes around … again, literally.
In that 2012 Chekhov production, the staging but not the play was, in the best sense, vigorously mucked about with. The result was to revivify a classic usually treated with delicate reverence. Tennessee Williams’ tale of Blanche’s disintegration under the primitive attention of her brother-in-law Stanley Kowalski is as much of a classic, but somehow the director cannot cut as loose this time. Apart from the revolving stage and a decision to play in modern dress and setting, the most radical element here is the atmospheric use at one point of P.J. Harvey’s song “To Bring You My Love”. Then again, Williams’ dramas are fairly febrile to begin with.
There is no need to funkify Gillian Anderson’s fine central performance as Blanche. Anderson has a natural ability to portray worryingly vulnerable undercurrents; this is precisely the key in which the part of Blanche is written, until the subtext becomes text towards the end, so extraneous additions would detract from the actor’s own work. Ben Foster’s Stanley is (until the closing seconds) all brute unvitiated by Brandoesque magnetism, so again there is nothing to distract us from the way his hostility erodes Blanche’s already precarious grip on reality. As Stanley’s wife and Blanche’s sister Stella, Vanessa Kirby (who played Masha in Andrews’ Three Sisters) suggests that there is another woman’s complex story in view here, but does so without competing for attention.
Three and a quarter hours is a long time for Streetcar (more than half as long again, for instance, as the famed 1951 film version), but this is not principally because material has been added; rather, the predominant impression is of what has not been.