Sept 2014 : A Streetcar Named Desire, My Night with Reg, and Toast

This roundup covers three fine revivals. All had surprisingly consistent high ratings, scoring four stars or better from every pro reviewer that gave a verdict. Thematically, it was a sombre month; each play echoes with loss and regret – perhaps due to all being short runs, which close in the next few weeks.

 

A Streetcar Named Desire – Young Vic, 4.3-star average

 

Wide and deep approval greeted what Charles Spencer (Telegraph) called Benedict Andrews’ “shattering production of Tennessee Williams’s bruising modern classic”, which stars Gillian Anderson in the lead role of Blanche Dubois.

 

Henry Hitchings (ES) found Anderson’s Blanche “electrifying“ as she “stunningly articulates her mix of carefully preserved glamour and neurotic fragility”. Spencer declared it “the performance of her career”, saying: “As the play progresses, Anderson devastatingly captures a woman whose options are running out …. Suddenly her lies and fantasies of a better life seem almost heroic, and her final crack-up is almost too painful to watch.”

 

Ben Foster’s portrayal of Stanley was hailed as “explosive”, “thrilling” and “truly fascinating“ while Vanessa Kirby as Stella was “eloquent”, “poignantly torn” and “remarkably natural”. Hitchings also enjoyed Corey Johnson’s “lovely measured contribution” as Mitch.

 

The set, which revolves unpredictably, was also an important feature for Hitchings, “suggesting Blanche’s spiralling descent” while creating “startling moments of intimacy” and “fluid transitions between scenes” for the in-the-round audience. Andrzej Lukowski (Time Out) saw the “treacly lights” and “soundtrack that veers from spooky nocturnal jazz to the seismic roar of avant-rock” as completing “a visceral physical manifestation of [a] disintegrating mind”.

 

Demetrios Matheou (Arts Desk), among others, acknowledged the rotating set had its “frustrating moments, when a sight line or a sentence drift away from you” but found those “outweighed by the sheer exhilaration” of the production. And, despite some reservations about the anachronistic contemporary staging, Paul Taylor (Independent) was among those happily jolted “out of any cosy, complacent sense of familiarity with this playwright’s world”.

 

Spencer concluded: “there isn’t a moment when the tension slackens or attention lapses. It is an absolute knock-out.” Hitchings agreed that it “makes us work hard but allows Williams’s play to feel bracingly fresh”, and declared Anderson “simply unmissable”.

 

Runs to Sep 19. Broadcast live to cinemas on 16 September as part of National Theatre Live. 

 

 

My Night with Reg – Donmar Warehouse, 4.4 star average

 

What Michael Billington (Guardian) called “a caustic study of gay manners in the age of Aids” garnered respectful four- and five-star reviews. Sarah Hemming (FT) explained: “Elyot doesn’t confront Aids directly … rather he shows how cruelly it accentuates the fragility of love and the remorseless passage of time.” Finding it “wickedly funny”, she found that “the funnier it becomes, the sadder you feel”.

 

Billington saw “fine performances all round” and Hemming gave supporting detail: “Julian Ovenden subtly catches John’s boyish charm, just beginning to curdle, and the emptiness beneath; Geoffrey Streatfeild’s Daniel, flamboyant, fun and generous in the first act, is poleaxed by grief in the second; and Jonathan Broadbent brilliantly conveys the lonely pain of Guy, the plain, reliable friend.” Others found Broadbent “spot on” and “wonderfully touching”. Supporting performances were judged “strong” or “lovely”, with Lewis Reeves particularly praised, and Taylor finding his character’s “bashful shrewdness and kindliness and his practical heart … wonderfully well communicated”.

 

Sam Marlowe (Arts Desk) praised this production’s “deft precision and a lightness of touch that allows every moment its – often unspoken – eloquence”, and Hemming judged the production a “tender, funny and moving revival” of “a humane, timeless piece about friendship, ageing, unrequited love and death”. Michael Coveney (What’s on Stage) found it “much more enjoyable all over again than I’d dared to expect”, declaring: “Elyot has been restored and justly celebrated.”

 

Runs to Sep 27

 

 

Toast – Park Theatre, 4-star average

 

A full loaf of four-star reviews greeted what Andrzej Lukowski called a “deadpan, Beckett-infused dramedy about a bunch of knackered oddballs clinging to their jobs in an ailing Hull bread factory in 1975”. Charles Spencer praised writer Richard Bean’s plot which, in this early play written long before Bean’s rollicking One Man, Two Guv’nors or the more recent Great Britain, “kicks satisfyingly into place, as the bantering humour of the Sunday night shift … turns into something genuinely dramatic” which can “have you on the edge of your seat”.

 

In terms of the human characters, actor Matthew Kelly was hailed as “excellent” and “superb” for what Michael Coveney called a “wonderful, docile, rubbery-featured portrait of a sad old lifer, glumly contemplating his cheese sarnies”. Lukowski described him as a “burnt-out husk” communicating in “vague grunts and pained expressions” and yet, said Hitchings, “provoking laughter with a tiny gesture”. Spencer was moved by “the sheer weariness and almost childlike simplicity of the man“ concluding: “You can’t take your eyes off him”.

 

By contrast, John Wark’s young newcomer, said Caroline Crampton (Arts Desk), “ambushes other characters with wide-eyed, otherworldly monologues that baffle and enrage”.  Henry Hitchings described “a mix of innocent nerd and creepy oddball”, while others found his performance “unnerving” and “deeply disconcerting”. The whole ensemble, and their direction by Eleanor Rhode, was broadly praised, with Coveney saying “all of Bean’s characters are sharply and affectionately observed and beautifully played”.

 

Finally, Lukowski described a “note-perfect dilapidated canteen” where “eerie industrial clanking noises fill the air” and Hitchings felt “memorable sound design” ensured “the unseen, temperamental oven is a substantial character in its own right”. All together, Hitchings found the play to be “small and vivid”, with the production capturing “both the grinding tediousness of shift work and the camaraderie that makes it bearable”. Spencer found its “robust humour and sudden moments of tense drama … constantly compelling”.

 

Runs to Sep 21

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