Review: A Streetcar Named Desire, Young Vic

“I don’t tell the truth, I tell what ought to be the truth. And it that’s sinful, then let me be damned for it!”

As if you could hide the truth about this, surely destined to be one of the shows of the year. Benedict Andrews’ thoughtful updating of Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire makes it seem like the play has always lived in this era and these characters always as freshly vibrant as they are here. The work of Gillian Anderson, Vanessa Kirby and Ben Foster as Blanche, Stella and Stanley is extraordinarily done – the disturbing sheen of sexual violence a tangible and thoroughly believable threat throughout as Andrews pulls no punches in showing us how brutal this world is.

There’s no escaping it either as Magda Willi’s framelike design constantly revolves in front of us as we’re sat in the round. This choice works on so many levels – the dizzying descent that characterises Blanche’s downfall, the relentless passage of time, the voyeurism it provokes from the audience as we crane to see what it sometimes hidden from view (just like the passive neighbours in the New Orleans neighbourhood). It’s not always easy or comfortable but given what we’re watching, why the hell should we be?! Continue reading “Review: A Streetcar Named Desire, Young Vic”

DVD Review: RSC’s King Lear

“Who is it that can tell me who I am”

Transferring stage productions onto film is something fraught with difficulties as the magic of live performance never really survives the change of medium, so something else, something slightly different has to be striven for. Trevor Nunn’s King Lear for the RSC – originated in Stratford in 2007 then toured the world before a West End season in rep with The Seagull – which stars Ian McKellen in the title role is not a filmed performance on stage, but nor is it a reconceived enhanced film version. Instead, it was filmed rather simply at Pinewood Studios, at the end of the tour, so it has the feel of a piece of theatre rather than of film, with the added bonus of being able to see the acting up close.

And what a bonus it is. McKellen is simply outstanding here. Jacobi’s Lear for the Donmar was my first ever and I couldn’t imagine it ever being bettered, Greg Hicks’ recent RSC one was just different, but this is such an incredibly visceral performance, full of anger and rage and bewilderment that is highly affecting even on screen – what it must have been like live I can’t imagine, but the camera captures every single nervy tic and nuanced touch that must have been missed in some of the larger theatres. And facing up against him is Frances Barber as Goneril in what must be one of the performances of her lifetime. She is just astounding, all kinds of manipulative, Machiavellian evil as she plots her way through the play, but almost justifiably so as the fierce tragedy carved on her face as her father curses her indicates the troubled history between father and daughter. This is the type of performance that makes you wish the sisters were featured much more in the play. Monica Dolan’s Regan is also tremendously strong, a more nervous, unhinged energy that plays out maliciously as she caresses the text languorously and Romola Garai’s Cordelia is beautifully spoken and extremely moving. Continue reading “DVD Review: RSC’s King Lear”

Review: Inherit The Wind, Old Vic

“I don’t want to believe that we come from monkeys and apes, but I guess that’s kinda besides the point”

Inherit The Wind is a courtroom drama, based on the true life story of a Tennessee schoolteacher who was threatened with imprisonment for teaching Charles Darwin’s ideas on evolution, in direct contravention of school policy. A highly strung court case then follows, pitching creationists against evolutionists, and bringing two legal titans to a small town in Tennessee to argue the case, the ramifications of which clearly extend beyond that classroom in the Deep South. Its timing seems uncanny: even on the 150th anniversary of the publication of On The Origin of Species, a highly recommended (by me at least) film Creation, about Darwin’s struggles with his own faith as he wrote it, has not been able to find a distributor in the US because it is considered too ‘controversial’ in a country where allegedly barely a third of the population actually believe in evolution.

The scale of this production really is admirably epic: the staging is superb, with the Old Vic’s stage being opened up to a great depth (you could probably fit the stage for Annie Get Your Gun on there 15 times over!), the already healthy cast is ably bolstered by a phalanx of supernumaries, bringing the total company to 50 bodies who bring an authentic air of claustrophobic small-town living to several scenes, most notably the prayer meeting just before the trial. The use of hymns sung by the company during scene changes further reinforces this strong sense of a community joined by the power of their faith. Continue reading “Review: Inherit The Wind, Old Vic”