Reviews are coming in for Rebecca Frecknall’s revival of Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire at the Almeida Theatre.
Following her acclaimed production of Tennessee Williams’ Summer and Smoke at the Almeida, Rebecca Frecknall (Cabaret) has assembled a thrilling cast for the play, including Paul Mescal (Normal People) as Stanley, Anjana Vasan (We Are Lady Parts) as Stella, and Patsy Ferran (Summer and Smoke) as Blanch.
Ferran stepped in to the cast to replace Lydia Wilson (Ripper Street), who had to drop out of the show due to health reasons.
The creative team includes set design by Madeleine Girling; costume design by Merle Hensel; lighting design by Lee Curran; sound design by Peter Rice; music by Angus MacRae; costume supervisor Jackie Orton; and casting by Julia Horan CDG.
A Streetcar Named Desire is playing at the Almeida to 4 February 2023.
Check out reviews, below, from the Telegraph, Evening Standard, the Times, the Stage, the Guardian, the Observer and more.
More reviews to follow
A Streetcar Named Desire reviews
"Paul Mescal is horribly good and Patsy Ferran is astonishing"
"With this revival Frecknall proves herself again to be a director of great vision and invention"
"This wrenchingly sad, stark staging of Tennessee Williams’s play is the stuff theatrical myths are made of, and the first great London show of 2023."
"The sublime Patsy Ferran stepped into the role of Blanche DuBois, the ageing southern belle whose gentility masks mental illness and sexual desperation, as if born to it. She, Mescal and Anjana Vasan as Stella, Blanche’s sister and Stanley’s wife, provide the core of emotional truth to Rebecca Frecknall’s production. All three act with their whole bodies."
"And Mescal? He’s horribly good: an insinuating, cat-like Kowalski with a wicked smirk and an incipient mullet, the violence in him barely battened down. The chemistry between the three leads is toxic but potent. A word, too, for Dwane Walcott, whose performance as Blanche’s suitor Mitch is beautifully understated and gentle."
"A heartstopping revival that grips with the intensity of a bad dream"
"It’s no surprise that the run at the Almeida Theatre, starring 'hot property' Paul Mescal and rising star Patsy Ferran, has already sold out"
"Both actors [Mescal and Ferran] are seen to tremendous effect, though, in a stripped-back austerity Streetcar that positions the action, with little furniture, on an exposed square platform, with members of the ensemble sometimes gazing in from the side-lines - no hiding place."
"It's hard to reinvent Streetcar; the evening falls short of Summer and Smoke’s revelations, but grips with the intensity of a bad dream; drums pound feverishly away, and the pain is relayed of a lonely life spiralling beyond last chance saloon. The final scene, which shows forceful restraint being applied to the carted-away heroine is heart-stopping."
"Magnetic Paul Mescal is no normal leading man"
"Mescal is tremendous: he makes the latent violence of Stanley Kowalski into something easy, tangible, vibrant yet unactorly. Ferran is simply sensational. Yet it’s the way the production as a whole blends dreamlike intimacy and imaginative realism that makes this much-revived 1947 masterpiece feel like it was written last Tuesday."
"[Rebecca Frecknall] once again manages to clear away the clag of the story while introducing a new sense of mystery. Not an ounce of “great theatre” stiffness here: this is raw, poetic, painful and plausible. Funny, too."
"The supporting cast is uniformly terrific: Dwane Walcott stands out as Blanche’s new boyfriend, Mitch; Anjana Vasan, as Stella, is the resolutely straightwoman for the roiling central pair. And, fine as Mescal is — his arms alone could win a Best Supporting Musculature gong — he’ll surely admit that it’s Ferran’s night. She’s young for the role. What she does, though, with her fast talk and nervy charm is make Blanche’s intelligence as tangible as her vulnerability, her quick wit as impressive as her self-deception is saddening."
"Patsy Ferran, Paul Mescal and Anjana Vasan find new depth in Williams' classic"
"Rebecca Frecknall's production has finally opened at the Almeida Theatre"
"... it is nevertheless a thoughtful and insightful look at a great and emotional play, one which dusts away layers of accumulated history to reveal the bare bones of a story where death is the opposite of desire, and where the fear of both can tear a woman's mind to shreds."
"Ferran makes Blanche unusually funny. She's neurotic, certainly, with fluttering hands and frightened eyes, but she is also fierce, protective of her sister Stella against Stanley's bullying possessiveness and able to land a good line."
"Throughout, Frecknall keeps the focus on her actors by creating a stylised world around them. The cast sit around the stage, providing props at crucial moments. Each act begins with them standing together, as if at the start of a rite."
"Paul Mescal brings a fierce and dangerous energy"
"One of the year’s most hyped shows delivers with powerful performances from the Normal People star, Patsy Ferran and Anjana Vasan"
"A Streetcar Named Desire warrants the hype, although at first it looks as if Frecknall’s directorial vision is driven by a rampant theatricality which might eclipse Mescal’s performance (and every other) and drain the play of its emotional power."
"Where Benedict Andrews’ 2014 production, starring Gillian Anderson, brought a destabilising giddiness to the drama through a constant stage revolve, it is sound that creates the discombobulating churn here. The second half retains all the theatrical tics but they come into full force, bringing dread and danger."
"Mescal’s performance is matched by his two accompanying leads. Ferran, who stepped in to play Blanche last month when Lydia Wilson withdrew due to an injury, is a butterfly in diaphanous dresses whose nerves are quickly jangled but who maintains a steely front in her power battles with Stanley. Vasan’s Stella, meanwhile, has soft, sensuous chemistry with Mescal and a more bristling relationship with her sister. For all its clever artifice and non-naturalism, it is the power of these performances that gives this production its fierce and dangerous energy."
"Paul Mescal’s cruel Stanley leaves Normal People’s gold chain in tatters"
"The ‘Aftersun’ actor gives an entrancing performance in Rebecca Frecknall’s intense Tennessee Williams revival at the Almeida"
"Paul mescal... is truly transformed in Rebecca Frecknall’s intense production of Tennessee Williams’s play. His Stanley Kowalski radiates with rage, wearing his psychopathy on his sleeve, with a menacing sexuality that could stop traffic – or make you run and hide. Connell’s gold chain lies in tatters. It’s entrancing to watch."
"Frecknall places the action in the round, where actors watch from the sidelines or pace impatiently. Above the Almeida stage sits a drum kit; every so often, there’s a thunder crash that’s just a bit too loud. It’s a fitting touch for a Streetcar that wants to wake up its disconcerted characters, in which Blanche, Stella and Stanley seem helplessly trapped in a cycle of sex and violence."
"After her extraordinary Cabaret, this Streetcar is another signal that Frecknall is a director with thrilling insights into the works we think we know. But it also shows that she can draw out impressive performances from repeat collaborators such as Frecknall and Vasan."
"Psychologically penetrating, emotionally devastating fresh take on a classic"
"Rebecca Frecknall’s staging of the Tennessee Williams classic – a follow-up to her triumphant Summer and Smoke at this theatre, and her first production since her smash-hit take on Cabaret – is a brilliantly disturbing interplay of trauma and self-delusion. Its damaged characters dodge and feint, fighting each other and themselves, retreating into fantasy and sensual oblivion; its climax of emotional and psychological devastation is shattering."
"It’s an evocation of sensual overload that is by turns brutal and delicate, and at times it seems Ferran’s bird-like Blanche will be crushed by it."
"... this is ferociously gripping, aesthetically astute, complex and compassionate – a well-worn drama turned into a searingly intimate journey into personal hell, its sufferings tricked out in lurid fantasy yet horribly, and compellingly, real."
"Paul Mescal is terrifying and Patsy Ferran is unbelievably good in Rebecca Frecknall’s thrillingly dissonant revival of Tennessee Williams’s masterpiece"
"[Patsy Ferran's] undoubtedly a national treasure in the making – not yet a household name, but if you’ve seen her on stage, you’ll never forget her. But to say the least, the odds felt stacked against her in taking on Williams’s doomed protagonist Blanche DuBois, one of the all time great stage roles."
"Frecknall’s directorial style isn’t easy to pithily sum up. But a recurring theme is compassion, and an ability to see the good in characters that even the author may have given up on. Ferran’s Blanche is perhaps deluded here, with her lies about her past and self-deceptions about her future. But she’s not camp or absurd. She’s desperately vulnerable, a catastrophic bag of nerves when she arrives, penniless, at her sister Stella’s pokey New Orleans home at the start of the play."
"Vasan’s resigned, pragmatic Stella is in some ways the most poignant performance – she’s not a monster like Stanley, but she doesn’t have Blanche’s professed belief in a better future. Her marriage is a Faustian pact, an exhausted compromise."
"Beyond the terrific actors, Frecknall’s production is wired and adrenalised, aesthetically defined less by Madeleine Girling‘s minimalist set than Penn’s thunderously jolting drums. It’s a jarring approach that feel both invigorating – it‘s so loud you’re hardly going to nod off – and wilfully playing against the melodrama in Williams’s text, occasionally to the point of perversity."
"Paul Mescal boils with raw animal power in a mesmerising revival"
"It says something about the quality of a production when it can call upon Olivier Award winner Patsy Ferran, quite simply the most transfixing stage performer of her generation, as a late substitute for the lead role"
"Director Rebecca Frecknall – acclaimed for her recent revival of Cabaret made her name with another Tennessee Williams play, Summer and Smoke, starring Ferran at the Almeida and for my money this is a superior production."
"Ferran is a magnetically attractive Blanche: with a sudden snatched glance or fluttering hand movement, she suggests all of Blanche’s long-honed powers of seduction, as well as her growing desperation."
"Gone are Normal People's Paul Mescal's boyish charms, he's a beast off the leash"
"Much the best reason for seeing this sold-out show — or at least praying that it transfers to the West End — is not so much Mescal, as the sensational acting of Patsy Ferran as Blanche. She turns the over-familiar role on its head. By comparison, Mescal is a spectator. Not raunchy like Brando, he mines his character’s reputation as a Neolithic throwback."
"By comparison, the rest of the cast are steady and solid. Only Dwane Walcott really stands out as the bashful, thick-set suitor, Mitch, who’s supposed to be her salvation. But through Ferran, Rebecca Frecknall’s production eviscerates Williams’s play, and spills its psychological guts."
"... the percussion provides the startling sound of Blanche’s inner world collapsing around her in a performance that will redefine Ferran’s career...and this role."
"Paul Mescal is brilliantly brutal in A Streetcar Named Desire at the Almeida Theatre"
"Led by three outstanding performances — Paul Mescal, Anjana Vasan and Patsy Ferran (who took over at short notice after Lydia Wilson had to withdraw and is astonishingly good) — it has the feel of desperate ritual and is both gripping and immensely sad."
"At the production’s core is desire — tender, brutal, overwhelmingly physical — compounded by Blanche’s deep unease with her own sexuality and what she has become."
"Ferran is brilliant at making you see the inner battle, as sustaining the fiction of the fastidious southern belle becomes exhausting."
"Occasionally the staging’s expressive choreography becomes intrusive and overbearing — the arrival of the flower-seller, for instance. But this is a production that adds to Frecknall’s glowing reputation."
"Paul Mescal, Patsy Ferran and Anjana Vasan captivate in Rebecca Frecknall’s headlong take on Tennessee Williams"
"This Streetcar is transporting. The casting of Rebecca Frecknall’s production guaranteed a sellout, and has produced three bewitching performances... Yet the central triumph is Frecknall’s ability to find the pulse of Tennessee Williams’s 1947 play. Confusion and desire are not embodied in a single performance: they sweep the stage, pushing the action along."
"... the marvellous Ferran, younger than usual for the woman depending on the kindness of strangers, brings a particular wit to Blanche: she fuses innocence and snobbery, and raises an uneasy laugh with her fastidious reference to Edgar Allan Poe as she rolls her eyes at her sister’s arrangements. She seems propelled by the velocity of her words, her own laughter so forced and hard that you can almost see it hanging in the air."
"A Streetcar Named Desire is superb"
"Ferran is so convincing that it is hard to imagine how the show could have existed without her. Her delicacy of voice and bone structure are matched by a lightness of dramatic touch that makes Blanche a more sympathetic presence than is often the case. Rebecca Frecknall, not for the first time, strips Tennessee Williams of its claustrophobic clutter. After a slightly pretentious opening tableau the show motors along in the round with few props. A modern feel from the youthful cast is accentuated by percussion and a cappella singing. Tom Penn’s drumming is a revelation. Completely brilliant."
"A classic tale of dreams undone"
"Tennessee Williams' play about the lonely and fearful Blanche (Patsy Ferran) who arrives in New Orleans to stay with her sister, Stella (Anjana Vasan) and her brutish husband Stanley (Paul Mescal) is a classic tale of dreams undone. Rebecca Frecknall's production is lean, mean and problematic."
"Mescal (Normal People/Aftersun) mitigates the Neanderthal Stanley with an instinctive intelligence; sex and violence hang in the air like the sulphurous smoke from an active volcano. While Ferran is far from the traditional Blanche, her rapid fire delivery and hyperactive agitation suggest a mind unraveling faster than alcohol can impede. Vasan is utterly convincing as a woman who understands she has sacrificed polite ‘safe’ society for raw unbridled passion..."
"Yet by stripping it down to its underwear and embellishing it with directorial flourishes Frecknall’s production appears - ironically - overdressed."
"Paul Mescal Is Explosive in Rebecca Frecknall’s Staggering Revival"
"Williams’s carefully detailed, literal two-room apartment is never shown. Instead, heralding her entire approach, Frecknall opens the play in an expressionist whirlwind of fraught, choreographed action on a bare, raised, in-the-round stage, topped off by a percussionist (Tom Penn), who is perched above and intermittently orchestrates and punctuates the proceedings. Only when strictly essential, chairs and props (Blanche’s trunk, the radio) are handed over by actors prowling round the rim of the suitably cramped stage. Yet, enhanced by Lee Curran’s cunning lighting, all the vital, fierce claustrophobia is communicated."
"As in her awards-garlanded “Cabaret,” Frecknall’s trump card is in her casting."
"Ferran and Frecknall first worked together in 2018 when the latter burst upon London’s theatrical scene with an arrestingly rethought “Summer and Smoke.” Together they made second-rate Williams feel like the most exciting play he wrote. There’s less room for reinterpretation in “Streetcar,” but by respecting and delivering the ideas of the play, not just its celebrated leading roles, Frecknall not only underlines it as a magnetic masterpiece, but she also proves once again that she is a theatrical force to be reckoned with."
"Paul Mescal Electrifies in a Revelatory ‘Streetcar’"
"In London, the Irish actor stars as Stanley Kowalski in a deeply empathic version of Tennessee Williams’s 1947 play, “A Streetcar Named Desire.”"
"The electricity he [Mescal] generates onscreen is fully evident in this latest “Streetcar” — a play frequently revived in London but rarely with the clarity and power brought to it here by Rebecca Frecknall"
"Mescal brings both swagger and sensitivity to the role, in the process stepping out of the long shadow cast over this part by its stage and screen originator, Marlon Brando. But he also exists amid a gifted company who lay bare the numerous contradictions of an infinitely rich play. Not intended as a mere star vehicle for its increasingly high-profile male lead, the visually stripped-back production is emotionally revelatory, too: Frecknall’s forensic skills allow us to look afresh at a motley gathering of people, Patsy Ferran’s tremulous Blanche DuBois chief among them, who seek understanding and compassion but just as frequently come to grief."
"The result is a production, performed in the round, that adheres not so much to the letter of the play as to its bruised and bruising spirit. Much the same was true of Frecknall’s acclaimed 2018 revival for the Almeida, also starring Ferran, of Williams’s lesser-known “Summer and Smoke.” Frecknall takes her cue from the wounding lyricism of Williams’s writing, not his (copious) stage directions, though the inclusion of some slow-motion toward the end feels like a directorial intervention too far."