“I got an acquaintance……”, “In the state of Louisiana we have the Napoleonic code….” Stanley Kowalski asserts his dominance over his household. In this version he’s an ever present demand and Tom Foster is effortless in allowing Kowalski’s untrammeled vicious child to roam throughot the play. What makes him worse than the brooding menace that was Brando is that while Brando’s Kowalski was at odds with his lot Tom Foster’s is comfortable. “I’m born and raised in the greatest country on this earth and I’m proud of it” and you feel that Stanley really believes it. Whatismore, this Kowalski has friends who wouldn’t do that much to challenge him. It’s only when he viciously assaults Stella in front of them that he steps over the moral line that wavers through this part of Williams’s New Orleans. You’ll note I’ve not been able to call him Stanley. That’s because to do so would humanise him into something acceptable – and what he does to Stella, let alone the disintegrating Blanche, doesn’t justify that. Such is the quality of Tom Foster’s performance, however, is that Kowalski never is allowed to be a caricature and never does he do anything that makes him appear outside your imagination or anticipation – you’d reckon you might know one of these. What he does do is to help create a very strong side for the central triangle of Blanche, Stella and himself. This Stella, played by Vanessa Kirby, is also more than a foil for her sister and you get a real feeling for her animal hunger for the Kowalski.
This is a play which could fall easily into patische. Hot, steamy, dysfunctional, did it create the cliche for a certain sort of Southern drama? The fact that it’s three and a half hours and with such a short distance to disaster in which to travel puts a great strain on the cast and the director not to get us to the obvious conclusion too soon and to prevent us looking at our watch. I did once do that, look at my watch, but only to register my surprise that we’d reached the break in what seemed only 20 min. Certainly the acting managed to inch us towards the conclusion rather than rush us, and the setting, with a slowly revolving rectangular set, helped alleviate the feeling of claustrophobia that could otherwise beset and then irritate in a long and intense play.
Nevertheless, almost reluctantly, I have to come to Gillian Anderson’s Blanche. Having seen her as a magnificent and brave Nora in the Dolls House we were intrigued to see how she’d make this role her own, but she was something special here. Moving the play to a more modern date has given her the chance to be less obvious in showing the structural weakness of Blanche, though it’s also fair to say that this makes her promiscuity less of a shock than it would have been when the play was first performed it even allows her an aura initially of tartness and worldliness.
Her journey from this to a woman afraid to travel no further than to the next bottle or to try to take refuge the inside of a disintegrating mind is a painful one. You followed her in this journey, and it is heartrending. The doomed courtship between her and the equally sad Mitch is desperate and when he (with a reluctance you feel) rejects her with the line “No, I don’t think I want to marry you anymore… No, you’re not clean enough to bring into the house with my mother.” you feel both their despairs at this loss.
Other than that it was a fun evening!
We’d got standing tickets only, but I arrived before 5 pm to take part in a lottery – a number of pairs and singleton tickets were going to be drawn from a tombola for the lucky few. Having gone off for coffee until the time for the draw I was first both shocked and disappointed to see there must have been a good 80 plus waiting in the foyer of the Young Vic and spilling onto the street. The first lucky winner though was greeted by both a whoop and applause from us all – a tone that continued until the curtain. Not being lucky in the lottery I found the returns queue which was buzzing as all chatted about the play and our experiences and how many tickets there might be from returns. Slowly the queue melted. We were now first, but there was only 15 minutes to the curtain – surely no-one returns tickets this late? You guessed – and they were front row! The man sitting next to us, who we saw returning the tickets and whom we thanked explained that he’d had a ‘moment’ and had booked twice for the show. Not only that but he’d found out that he’d managed to do the same for the Fringe (Edinburgh) where he and his wife were travelling to the next week.