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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

 
A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE
at the Donmar Warehouse

A WOMAN IN NEED
By CLAIRE ALLFREE

  Rachel Weisz

The big question is: is Rachel Weisz too beautiful to play the wilting Blanche DuBois? Technically she's actually too old: Tennessee Williams specified that Blanche was 30; Weisz is 38. But in Rob Ashford's elegant production for the ever glamourous Donmar, Weisz's unshakeably lovely features simply serve as another intriguing facet of Blanche's extraordinary quixotic capacity for self delusion. More powerfully, in a performance that consistently reveals the nerve endings jangling beneath the gossamer surface, it suggests a Blanche so deeply traumatised that it almost seems laughable to expect her to apply the voice of reason.

Weisz first blows in like a flower on the wind, dressed in gauzy white and as delicate as a china cup, and utterly at sea in the dilapidated New Orleans tenement block inhabited by her sister and her husband. There's something spectral and bloodless about her, which feels entirely fitting for a woman who has constructed a pearly, quasi magical view of the world. Yet while some may question the absence of colourful theatrics in Weisz's initially underplayed performance, her Blanche is certainly a performer. Clever, neurotic, a boozer and a flirt, there's the sense she is trying on versions of herself rather like her beloved clothes while the core of her remains catastrophically caught at 16, unable to move past the moment her young husband blew his brains out. Yes, the flaw is that she is too likeable: this Blanche is no bitch. But Weisz brings instead a moth-like yearning coupled with a fragility that makes her promiscuity poignant and her fate little short of horrific.

Christoher Oram's  suspiciously lovely coiling wrought iron stair case dominates a high but compressed set that underscores the interior nature of Williams's play - both in its relentless domestic setting and its emphasis on seething interior worlds. All muscle and beer bottle chauvinism, Eliot Cowan may miss Stanley Kowalski's deep buried vulnerability. Yet while he is precisely the priapic cave man Blanche describes him as, he is intriguingly motivated not by anything so sophisticated as desire but by a predatory, bovine ego and furious sense of entitlement. And there's fabulous , consistently interesting support from Ruth Wilson as Stanley's wife Stella: a compassionate woman darkly in love with her husband and who ends up almost as much the victim of the piece as her more obviously tragic sister.

The play's sexual politics are ugly, and Ashford confronts them head on - there's a moment in the shadows when Eunice (Daniela Nardini ) and her husband are throwing plates at each other and seconds later kissing furiously. And the rape scene is brutal and deliberately explicit. Ashford also ingeniously uses the actor who plays the boy collecting money who Blanche kisses (Jack Ashton) to also play her dead husband; and I liked the way he externalised the dreamy poetry of the play by having Blanche live out her memories like film images flickering across a screen. Weisz may not bring fireworks to this most iconic of roles. But she does bring a luminous intelligence that emphasises the ambiguities and contradictions that make this Southern belle so despairingly adrift.

 


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