My first exposure to A Streetcar Named Desire – and try not to judge me too harshly on this – was via The Simpsons. I guess that had coloured my ideas for what the play was going to be like quite a bit, but it also has meant I've always been intrigued to find out what the show is actually like. So when The National announced it would be this week's lockdown viewing, and that it would star Gillian Anderson no less, I was pretty excited.
Unsurprisingly, the plot is a little different to the yellow-skinned version I know. I was surprised to find that the main character, Blanche, is not strictly a prostitute, for example. I was also surprised to find her character quite so utterly unlikeable. Brilliantly performed, but wow I was not rooting for her at all. I'd actually say that what Streetcar seems to achieve better than any other play I've watched is a realism to how unlikeable all the characters are. There's barely a single redeemable personality here, yet they aren't stereotypes; actually, they fall so close to genuine experience that it was why I had such a negative reaction. They were people I know (or knew, at least) just in a totally alien setting, time period, and country. It was fascinating to watch as a result.
Whilst Blanche understandably steals the show, for my money Stanley is the true writing tour de force here. I have no idea how you craft a character that is so definitively rotten and get the audience to yo-yo between sympathy and disgust for him without it ever feeling forced. Every time you think he may be redeemable he swings it around... but then he gets you back on board a little later again. Not so much at the very end, of course, but this is a descending tragedy if ever there was one. No happy endings allowed.
It's a great play and I fully understand why it has become a "modern" classic (quotes because boy is this play a lot older than I had realised!). Unlike some of the other National performances we've been lucky enough to catch during everything going on right now, though, I don't see this as a "definitive" version. It's excellent. Staging, props, direction, and of course acting are all phenomenal. Anderson is pretty much faultless throughout; I certainly can't think of a single moment where she slips out of character or loses that incredibly awfully brilliant accent. I just think it's such a cleverly written play that almost any great actor would be able to bring something a little unusual to it and I'd happily sit through again in the future, if I get the chance.