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"Victory goes to the player who makes the next-to-last mistake - Chessmaster Savielly Grigorievitch Tartakower (1887-1956)"

Friday, December 23, 2022

A Streetcar Named Desire @AlmeidaTheatre ... Review ->

Last night Elliot and I went to see the latest revival of Tennessee Williams's iconic masterpiece A Streetcar Named Desire at the Almeida Theatre in London's glitzy Islington.
Quick review: good but not great. Come for Paul Mescal.
On a street in New Orleans, in the blistering summer heat, a sister spirals out of control.
Starring Paul Mescal as the violent and brutish Stanley (yes, him off of Normal People), Anjana Vasan as his wife Stella, and Patsy Ferran as the spiralling sister-in-law Blanche DuBois - we had high hopes for a great night of Southern-style heat, steamy repressed sexual tension, and great acting. And added to this, this was director Rebecca Frecknall's first production at the Almeida since her multi-Olivier Award-winning production of Cabaret. So, it should have been great.
The night started a little sadly though as due to illness one of the parts was to be played by the director herself; this coming with the added knowledge that due to an injury, Lydia Wilson, who had originally been slated to play Blanche, also had to drop out. The curse of Williams’s plays!
The show was just fine however. More than fine perhaps. Good. Yes, let's call it good. A sparse production with a spartan set in the round, the first half was a tad too slowly paced but things, rather like the chairs were, picked up in the second act.
As was reported in Popbitch yesterday, “Good reviews are coming in for Paul Mescal as Stanley Kowalski in Streetcar at the Almeida. He was so immersed in the role last night that he chucked a chair off stage and nearly hit a woman in the front row with it. Very dramatic!”
And indeed, the acting was very good. Paul Mescal was magnetic; you couldn't take your eyes off him.  Well, Elliot and I couldn't.
But something was missing. Maybe it was the open and the spartan staging - where was the play's physical and (for Blanche) inner claustrophobia? Maybe it was the fact that Mescal is an excellent 'internal actor' rather what Stanley deserves - an animalistic Neanderthal whose violent actions and seething emotions play all too clearly on his face? Or maybe it was that Ferran's Blanche is just too pretty and not the faded flower that Blanche should really be?
The curtain of falling water that surrounded the stage at all key moments (with the distinct waft of chlorine rather like at the National's The Crucible in the summer) did little to help draw us in either.
That said, things did improve towards the end (it was a nudging 3-hour show) as Stanley stalked closer to Blanche's truth, and her fragile world began to fracture. Indeed, if the final 15 minutes where reality and illusion collided with a violent conflict had powered the slower first act I might have had nicer things to say about the night. But it was all a little too late.

Maybe as the run progresses these wrinkles will get ironed out. I hope so. Because it’s 5-star play and deserves a 5-star production.
So, if you do go, if you can get the ticket, go for Paul Mescal. He's very good. But be warned, it's long play, and not a patch on the Young Vic's 2014 production starring Gillian Anderson and Vanessa Kirby. 
Completing the cast are Eduardo Ackerman (making his professional stage debut), Ralph Davis (Much Ado About Nothing), Janet Etuk (I, Joan), Gabriela García (West Side Story), Tom Penn (Midnight Movie) and Jabez Sykes (Rock/Paper/Scissors).
The creative team features set designer Madeleine Girling, costume designer Merle Hensel, lighting designer Lee Curran, sound designer Peter Rice, composer Angus MacRae and casting director Julia Horan.


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