Review: Patsy Ferran and Paul Mescal in A Streetcar Named Desire, Almeida Theatre
The Almeida's production of A Streetcar Named Desire quickly sold out, presumably helped by the casting of Paul Mescal as Stanley. But the play's drama started before it opened: A few days before previews began, its Blanche - Lydia Wilson - had to pull out.
Olivier-winner* Patsy Ferran stepped into the breach taking on the lead role, the first week of performances was cancelled to give her some rehearsal time, and the press night was pushed back to January (yes, this performance was an unintended preview).
While it wasn't referenced that Ferran would have a script with her in the stage manager's brief pre-performance speech, she had a black, hardbacked notebook with her throughout. However, it didn't really register for a long time until she seamlessly opened it, glanced at a page and then closed it again without missing a beat.
In fact, I hardly noticed her looking at it; it was held like a prop as if it was dear possession, an item of comfort that Blanche clings to. And it was the only slight hint of having had so little time to prepare. She was that good.
The other unexpectedly great performance was director Rebecca Frecknall, who stood in to play Eunice.
Pushing last-minute substitutions to one side, this production is a very different beast from others I've seen. For a start, Ferran's Blanche is so fragile. You really get the sense of this being someone who is damaged, rendered delicate with frayed nerves.
Hers is a sweet charm, an almost innocent flirtation which she can turn on almost like a reflex rather than a more overt sexiness of other portrayals. Her behaviour feels like her protective casing from years of trying to numb past trauma.
Menacing performance from Mescal
I feared for her before the brute that is Stanley had even stepped on stage. And Mescal's Stanley is menacing. Previously only having seen him play very gentle and quiet characters; it was great to watch.
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