• Isabelle Osborne

Theatre Review: 'A Streetcar Named Desire', National Theatre Screening

Since the outbreak of coronavirus meant theatres across the globe were forced to close their doors, The National Theatre have begun streaming past productions online for free. From Jane Eyre to Treasure Island, this is a must for all theatre lovers. What is more, you can donate money via the screening to aid the National Theatre in their attempt to endure the impact of the pandemic on the theatre industry.

I studied A Streetcar Named Desire at A-Level, but unlike Twelfth Night, I have never seen a live production of it; when I saw the NT were screening it on YouTube, this was a must for me. I loved Tennessee Williams' play, and really got into the deep analysis of motifs, themes and the use of music.

Directed by Benedict Andrews, the play is set in New Orleans, and follows Blanche DuBois as she visits her sister Stella. Seeking solace in her sister as she suffers from hysterical outbursts and a lack of belonging, Blanche endures the brutal, animalistic Stanley Kowalski (Stella's husband) and is forced to recognise that her previous life of wealth and status is far behind her. 

I was interested in how the company used the stage. The play is based in the Kowalski flat, a small two room flat that reduces any sense of privacy for the inhabitants. The use of theatre in the round makes the flat feel more enclosed, reaffirming the claustrophobic experience of Blanche's mental instability and conveying how she is suffocated by Stanley's brutish nature. The spinning stage and pulsing white light after Blanche is rejected from her desired lover demonstrates her declining mental state, the candles of the birthday cake flickering in the dark an inspired way of highlighting Blanche's instability.

Gillian Anderson's interpeation of Blanche's character was brilliant, as she truly conveys the hsyteria she experiences throughout the play. The lipstick she smears over her face in the final two scenes gives her a tormented, tortured look that acts as a manifestation of how haunted her character has become. I also loved Vanessa Kirby's presentation of Stella, as she cleverly put across her emotional turmoil as she fights to keep both her sister and her husband.

Music plays an important role in the play, and as a musician myself I was always intrigued by how Williams used it to illuminate key aspects of the play. The musical interludes between the scenes were effective for conveying and enhancing the themes of rage, violence, hysteria and loneliness. For example, the rock music between the second scene and the poker night helped to convey the machoistic feel of the upcoming scene where Stanley lashes out in a drunken rage. However, I did feel the choice of music within this adaptation detracted attention from the jazz inspired music that was originally written into the play directions, so that the play lost its authentic New Orleans feel. This was disappointing and left me feeling a little deflated, as I feel the jazz music is so integral to the play itself.

I am always interested to see how plays end, as this is where the climax is usually reolsved (or, often times, left unresolved). The cast's cleaning up of the stage in a calm, silent manner as Blanche lies on the bed is hauntingly brilliant. There are select pieces of yellow across the stage, such as on the shirts of the men and the bin liner, that provide a little colour to a dark, dusk stage. Does this draw a light upon the mess Blanche has made or the mess Stanley has made?

This was a fascinating, affecting and thought provoking adaptation of Williams' play. The acting was sublime, and the use of stage fabulous. I would defiantly recommend to all theatre lovers!

All images shown in this article do not belong to me, and are linked to the pages that I obtained them from.

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