Patsy Ferran and Paul Mescal impress in this inventive take on A Streetcar Named Desire at the Almeida Theatre
“How pretty the sky is! I ought to go there on a rocket that never comes down”
With the last minute withdrawal of Lydia Wilson due to injury, Rebecca Frecknall’s production of A Streetcar Named Desire might have had a rocky beginning. But with Patsy Ferran stepping in, resuming their artistic collaboration from Summer and Smoke and Frecknall still riding high from her outstanding work on Cabaret, you’d never know any different.
For though this may be a Tennessee Williams play, it is most definitely a Frecknall production. With designer Madeleine Girling, she has created a stripped back and highly stylised interpretation which resets our expectations of this deeply personal drama. Blanche is another of Williams’ attempts to wrestle with the legacy of his troubled sister and Ferran makes pleasingly interesting work of it.
As she pushes Blanche closer to the edge in terms of her wavering mental health right from the start, there’s a real sense of inner strength to her as well, a cannier side which isn’t always present. In arriving in New Orleans, the lines are clearly drawn as Anjana Vasan’s excellent Stella bristles at the arrival of her sister and Paul Mescal’s brutish Stanley clocks her intentions towards his pal Mitch, Dwane Walcott maintaining the cracking performance level.
I’ve not seen Normal People, nor Aftersun yet, so I know nothing about Mescal aside from hype, but I was highly impressed with his work here. Under Lee Curran’s lighting, the staging is highly intimate and under the ever-present gaze of the company, there’s nowhere to hide. The minor mis-step for me was with the intrusive use of music, an intervention too far perhaps, though nothing really to distract from this thrilling piece of theatre.