Page last updated at 09:17 GMT, Wednesday, 29 July 2009 10:17 UK

Reviews: A Streetcar Named Desire

British actress Rachel Weisz has returned to the London stage in a new production of Tennessee Williams's play A Streetcar Named Desire.

Rachel Weisz in A Streetcar Named Desire (photo by Johan Persson)
Weisz won an Academy Award for The Constant Gardener in 2006

The Oscar-winning star plays Blanche DuBois, a faded Southern belle forced by circumstance to lodge with her sister in New Orleans.

There she meets her brother-in-law Stanley Kowalski, a burly brute played in this Donmar Warehouse production by Elliot Cowan.

Weisz previously appeared at the Donmar in Suddenly Last Summer, also by Tennessee Williams, and Noel Coward's Design for Living.

Here is what the critics had to say about the play, famously filmed in 1951 with Vivien Leigh as Blanche and Marlon Brando as Stanley.


Rachel Weisz starts vague and wispy, with that glinting, cunning deceptiveness of the dedicated drinker, but she misses an awful lot of the role's cutting cruelty.

As Stanley, Cowan is simply too English, too public school even. He doesn't sound very New Orleans, or even New Jersey, more New Forest.

You certainly get the rush of despair braking through the genteel facade. But this isn't a great Streetcar.

Its qualities lie not so much in performance as in the revelation of a still ground-breaking dramatic, almost filmic structure and poetry.


Great play though it undoubtedly is, A Steetcar Named Desire is an exceptionally tough nut to crack.

The mixture of brutal realism and haunting stage poetry can make for grinding, dramatic gear changes, and the role of Blanche DuBois has defeated many a celebrated actress.

Rachel Weisz rises to the challenge magnificently. Her undoubted beauty is combined here with a fluttering, birdlike nervousness and sudden moments of desperate panic that wrench the heart.

Rob Ashford directs an intense production that gains greatly from being played in this small, intimate space. This is, by some distance, the best Streetcar I have seen.


Both Glenn Close and Jessica Lange recently played Blanche DuBois in London, but neither had the charisma of Weisz.

You can see the torment of the past in her face, and the stress of the present that finally, movingly breaks her.

Does she underplay Blanche's preciosity and squeamish affectations? Maybe.

But she has the intelligence, the wry humour, the yearning for love and the capacity to express it.


With Rachel Weisz playing Blanche DuBois there is also no doubt this production will be a popular success.

Yet, for all the evening's merits, the perfectionist in me questions Rob Ashford's production, which is often stronger on externals than the drama's inner core.

The sinuous drawl of the American south sometimes eludes Weisz. But what she brings to the role is a quality of desperate solitude touched with grace.

One ends up marvelling again at Williams's play, but I emerged impressed without quite being overwhelmed.


Rachel Weisz does not let us down. She brings us a Blanche, seemingly emboldened at first by endless references to her classy past.

Then, in one of the most exceptional performances seen this year, she proceeds to bare the character, slowly paring it like the skin of an apple.

Elliot Cowan is an outstanding Stanley. This tall, extremely muscular actor cleverly builds up the character to an almost screaming pitch.

This is surely one of the highlights of the present West End theatre scene.


What an overwhelmingly miserable, maddening, helpless husk Rachel Weisz delivers in this wrist-slitter of a play.

Miss Weisz plays Blanche DuBois, one of the great female roles of crumbling beauty and hopelessness.

Though youthful (and glamorous) for the part, she scores a considerable success.

Depressing theatre, done here with great artistry.

A Streetcar Named Desire runs at the Donmar Warehouse until 3 October.

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