The ultimate ageing Southern belle is, of course, Blanche. But enough about The Golden Girls, instead it's Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire at the Donmar. The very first time I went to the Donmar was to see The Glass Menagerie so another Tennessee Williams play there takes me back a bit. As with that production, the set design (by Christopher Oram) takes in the balcony as well, with railings enclosing the whole space to add to the feeling of claustrophobia.
Rob Ashford's production casts Rachel Weisz as Blanche, and she proves to be more than a famous name, looking frail and needy right from her first appearance, downing shot after shot of whisky in private while insisting in public that one's her absolute limit. Weisz's Blanche is clearly mentally unstable from the start, something her sister Stella (Ruth Wilson) overlooks at first as just part of Blanche's superiority complex. As Stanley pushes her to breaking point and the truth about her past comes to light, she gives a great performance that balances being sympathetic with the fact that clearly this wouldn't be the easiest character to have around you. I mean, she's no Marge Simpson in Oh Streetcar! but she'll do.
Elliot Cowan (Darcy in Lost in Austen) plays Stanley, and while his accent's all over the place he does make for a very threatening physical presence. His reaction to finding out how common his sister-in-law considers him is to become even more proudly common, and there's always violence bubbling under and often spilling out to the surface. I'm slightly amazed by how none of the official reviews mantioned Cowan's uncanny resemblance to Heath Ledger by the way. Barnaby Kay is endearing as Blanche's possible romantic interest Mitch, while Wilson gives a strong performance as Stella. Daniela Nardini from This Life is in the fairly small part of upstairs neighbour Eunice, also sporting a rather dodgy accent.
Ashford gives the production a slightly dreamlike quality by showing on stage Blanche's hallucinations of her dead husband, his gay affair and subsequent suicide, and the grand parties she would once have taken part in. I might normally have been annoyed by Adam Cork's sudden bursts of loud music between scenes but here it seems appropriate, adding to the brooding atmosphere. The actors even find the humour in the piece so all in all this is an impressive production.
Now, all together:
#New Orleans! Home of pirates, drunks and whores,
New Orleans! Tacky overpriced souvenir stores,
If you wanna go to hell why don't you take a trip
To the Sodom and Gomorrah of the Mississip,
A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams is booking until the 3rd of October at the Donmar Warehouse.