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A CurtainUp LondonLondon Review
A Streetcar Named Desire
by Lizzie Loveridge

I can't stand a naked lightbulb, any more than I can a rude remark or a vulgar action. -- Blanche
A Streetcar Named Desire
Glenn Close & Iain Glen
As Trevor Nunn reaches the end of his tenure as Artistic Director of the National Theatre, he has chosen to direct a full scale production of Tennessee Williams' famous play, A Streetcar Named Desire with Glenn Close in the lead role of Blanche DuBois. I remember some years back word had it that Madonna was to play Blanche in London under the direction of Sir Peter Hall, but nothing came of it. When we think of the essence of Tennessee Williams' fading belle, words like brittle or fragile come to mind. These are not those normally associated with a powerful actress like Glenn Close, who once played a male pirate in the film of Hook to see if anyone would notice that it was her.

This is a wonderful production of Streetcar, beautifully directed by Nunn. Bunny Christie's set, as tall as several floors of a block of French Quarter apartments with crumbling plaster and washing hanging out. It is dominated by a cast iron spiral staircase that revolves to reveal the Kowalskis' ground floor apartment. The scene changes segue from living room to bedroom to exterior of the block, one into the other as smoothly as silk. Jazz and the Blues provide musical atmosphere to recreate steamy New Orleans and in the background are peddlers, tarts and drunken sailors.

Glenn Close's quivering Blanche starts off very loud and very rapidly and, in an not altogether convincing Southern accent. At times she seems to be sending herself up. Could she be playing this for laughs? When she says she is unable to use a dial telephone with such an expression of revulsion, it produces laughter rather than showing how inadequate Blanche is to survive. There is no Southern languor here. Her clothes look delicate, but there is no getting away from her determined chin set and her dominant star stage presence. The later scenes show more vulnerability as she is brought down, humiliated, raped and finally escorted away to an institution. In the last resort, despite fine acting, Close was unable to convince me that she was lost or alone without resources, or dependent on the kindness of strangers for anything. I think it is very hard to like Close's portrayal of Blanche and as such it is difficult to sympathise with her nasty fate.

Iain Glen has the equally problematic task of playing the unintelligent and brutal Kowalski. Whilst he is sweaty, muscular and cruel, he seems a mite too cerebral for the wife beating, greedy Pole. I was enthralled by the young Australian actress, Essie Davis as Stella. Finely poised between sexual need for her violent husband and loyalty to her sister, her closing screams were truly disturbing. I liked very much too Robert Pastorelli as Mitchell, the final object of Blanche's desperate snares, the mother's boy who might have married Blanche until Kowalski sets him straight about her lies.

For anyone who does not know the essence of Tennessee Williams' story, this brief plot summary: Genteel and pretentious, Blanche DuBois, having lost her teaching job and the family plantation home, comes to stay in New Orleans with her sister Stella, who is married to brutish Stanley Kowalski. Blanche, full of airs and graces, is looking for a husband but Kowalski exposes her life as a small town whore and seducer of young boys to her sole suitor, Mitch. In a final power struggle over the loyalty of his wife, Kowalski rapes Blanche and she is taken away to an asylum. The play has had many production and the Elia Kazan's 1951 film, which starred Vivien Leigh and Marlon Brando, is a hard to follow classic.

For CurtainUp's background page about Tennessee Williams, including links to other Williams plays reviewed go here

A Streetcar Named Desire
Written by Tennessee Williams
Directed by Trevor Nunn

Starring: Glenn Close and Iain Glen
With: Miquel Brown, Adrew Westfield, Jack Pierce, George Eggay, Robert Pastorelli, Essie Davis, Sue Kelvin, Sam Douglas, Gary Oliver, Jonathan Forbes, Valerie Farr, Katherine Reilly, William Hoyland, Joanna Hole, Billie Baker
Designer: Bunny Christie
Lighting Designer: Paul Pyant
Music Superviser: Neil McArthur
Sound Designer: Paul Groothuis
Running time: Three hours with one 20 minute interval
Box Office: 020 7452 3000
Booking to 23rd November 2002
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 18th October 2002 performance at the Lyttelton Theatre, National Theatre Upper Ground, London SE1 (Tube Station: Waterloo)
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