A Streetcar Named Desire (National Theatre At Home, YouTube)
Verdict: Under-seasoned Williams
What Do We Need To Talk About? (The Public Theater, New York, publictheater.org)
Verdict: Touching family Zoom session
Memoirs Of An Asian Football Casual (Leicester Curve, curveonline.co.uk)
Verdict: Slice of hooligan history
When a writer is as popular as Tennessee Williams, his great works dished up umpteen times over the decades, it inevitably raises the question of how you prefer his fare prepared: smooth and sophisticated, or hot and spicy.
Good as it is, this production of his 1947 play A Streetcar Named Desire starring The X-Files’ Agent Scully, Gillian Anderson, is a little under-seasoned for my taste.
Ever since Vivien Leigh and Marlon Brando appeared as heroine and anti-hero Blanche DuBois and Stanley Kowalski in the 1951 film, this has struck me as a story that must be dripping with raunch, sweat and foreboding.
Actress Gillian Anderson is pictured above in a 2014 production of A Streetcar Named Desire. Benedict Andrews’ production rips the story out of its period and sets it in an angular, revolving Ikea showroom
What we get here instead is Anderson as a deluded Southern belle, slumming it in New Orleans with her newlywed sister Stella and her boorish Polish-American husband. She waddles on in six-inch stilettos and bug-eye shades, lugging designer suitcases.
Benedict Andrews’ production rips the story out of its period and sets it in an angular, revolving Ikea showroom. Gone is the gothic decay which makes Blanche exclaim that ‘only Mr Edgar Allan Poe could do it justice’.
Anderson can be tough on the ears, too, with her Mississippi accent and odd peacock shrieks ricocheting off hard surfaces.
Ever since Vivien Leigh and Marlon Brando appeared as heroine and anti-hero Blanche DuBois and Stanley Kowalski in the 1951 film, this has struck me as a story that must be dripping with raunch, sweat and foreboding
But once you’ve adjusted the sound levels, she is an impressively manipulative survivor, batting eyelids and tossing back the bourbon. Her piece de resistance is her breakdown at the end, which is truly disturbed and disturbing.
Even so, at more than three hours long, I found Andrews’ production too clinical. Ben Foster, who plays Stanley, is the kind of seamy muscleman you might expect to find clearing your drains. But while it is important to condemn domestic violence, he needs some of Brando’s sex appeal to leaven the darker undercurrents.
Over in the U.S. there are signs that the video-chat app Zoom may yet work as a platform for plays.
Writer Richard Nelson has produced a touching vignette for New York’s Public Theater, about a family Zoom call between a group of 50 and 60-something siblings.
He nails the way we gaze at the camera, re-freeze our grins, scratch, shout upstairs and disappear only to return with a miraculously recharged wine glass.
What Do We Need To Talk About? has a relatable set of characters, including a sardonic actor played by Stephen Kunken (many will recognise him as the goofy guy from TV’s Billions). Jay O. Sanders stars as a lawyer who has had an epiphany while doing the dishes, and is holed up with his bossy big sister (Maryann Plunkett).
Sally Murphy, meanwhile, is the ditzy writer, and Laila Robins is the serious sister who tells an unexpectedly moving anecdote.
Over in the U.S. there are signs that the video-chat app Zoom may yet work as a platform for plays. Writer Richard Nelson has produced a touching vignette for New York’s Public Theater, about a family Zoom call between a group of 50 and 60-something siblings
It may be torture if you work using Zoom. But the beauty of this lies in its simplicity — and seeing how much we have in common with people across the world.
Memoirs Of An Asian Football Casual, on Leicester’s Curve Theatre’s website, is a fascinating mix of Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange and Ayub Khan Din’s East Is East. It is an adaptation of Riaz Khan’s book about growing up in a family of Asian immigrants under the shadow of Enoch Powell.
Khan joins Leicester City’s hooligan football gangs and courts serious injury.
I could have done without the cheesy ‘lessons learned’ ending. But, performed by just two athletic young men, it’s an adrenaline cocktail with strong language that still feels vital and new. And, if you don’t fancy that, Oscar Wilde’s The Importance Of Being Earnest starring Cathy Tyson, and Joe Orton’s What The Butler Saw with Rufus Hound, are available on the same site.
Theatre takes the small screen by storm
Theatre’s coronavirus fightback is gearing up now that casts and creatives have had a chance to coordinate and rehearse.
Next week sees the green shoots of virtual recovery, with BBC4’s thespian onslaught.
Gemma Arterton is pictured above
From Tuesday to Thursday at 10pm (and thereafter on iPlayer) you can watch Headlong and Century Films’ short plays featuring top stage talent including Gemma Arterton (right), Alison Steadman, Meera Syal, Lennie James, James Norton and Rory Kinnear.
The 14 plays, grouped under the header ‘Unprecedented’, include Safer At Home by Anna Maloney. Arterton stars as a pregnant woman being looked after by the father-to-be (played by her real-life husband Rory Keenan) in lockdown.
Syal and Norton feature in April De Angelis’s House Party, about an online street party that not everyone wants to join. Also next week, on the website of Scarborough’s Stephen Joseph Theatre (sjt.uk.com), there’s a new audio play written and directed by octogenarian Alan Ayckbourn, who stars alongside his actress wife Heather Stoney.
Ominously, it’s about an unexpected marital break-up. But like Arterton and Keenan, Ayckbourn and Stoney demonstrate that, in the short term, the future of live theatre may be coming from a house near you.