Wednesday, 26 August 2009
Directed by Rob Ashford
Written by Tennessee Williams
Starring Rachel Weisz, Elliott Cowan
Production company The Donmar
Theatre The Donmar Warehouse
Back to my favorite theatre then, the Donmar. This time it is to see their new production of the Tennessee Williams classic, A Streetcar Named Desire.
From the moment I walked into the theatre, I knew there was going to be something special about this production. The director Rob Ashford may not have the most impressive resumé, yet, with the highlight of his past work being an Emmy nomination for his work choreographing the Academy Awards ceremony. But once you see the fine work he has done on this production, you are reminded that Emmy's aren't handed out for nothing.
The stage is beautifully done up, with flickering lanterns rusty columns and decorative wrought iron fencing around the audience circle to really give the look and feel of New Orleans (pronounced 'Nahlens' of course) and it comes of beautifully. The intricate design, the pitch perfect lighting, the smoke in the air and the mugginess of a packed theatre all made me feel as if I was actually there in New Orleans in the midst of all the action. And it's one of the few plays I've seen that makes me feel that way.
So the production is absolutely top notch, as is the lead performance by Rachel Weisz as the vulnerable Blanche DuBois, a 'prim and proper' southern belle with a dark past who is on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Weisz is on stage for pretty much the entirety of the play, and appropriately dominates the proceedings. And it's not because she's the big film star, it's because she's very VERY good. Indeed this is an unforgettable and powerful performance from a very talented young lady. That she does this every single night and her voice manages to hold up for the entire night through all the exasperated histrionics is nothing short of amazing.
The other performances are mostly positive, notably Ruth Wilson playing Stella. However, the same can not be said for Stanley, played by Elliott Cowan. It's not that he's a bad actor, he has the look and demeanor of Stanley down perfectly, it is because his accent is so completely all over the place that it's actually very distracting to the audience. It's not entirely clear what he's doing, it's like a mix of southern American, German, and some awful imitation of Marlon Brando. It's so bad that I honestly wonder if the problem was that he had stuffed cotton balls in his mouth in some misguided attempt to channel Brando, and ultimately you can only understand half the words that come out of his mouth.
The other major issue, frankly, is that I don't care too much for Streetcar in general. It's ok if you like excessive melodrama and histrionics. But frankly I find that manipulative, like you can't evoke emotion through the actual substance of the play so you have to try and do it via over the top whining and crying. It's not my cup of tea. This is a play with a lot of very interesting psychological concepts, which I feel are undermined by the unrealistically overt melodrama.
However, this shouldn't take away from an excellent production with a stupendous lead performance. After much careful deliberation, I have decided that these strengths outweigh the weakness of the play and Cowan's painful vocal work.