“…And the Aaaskr ( Oscar, to the rest of us ) goes to….
Perhaps the most famous refrain from any Award Ceremony on the planet.
But it’s not March yet.
There are other, smaller but no less coveted, longed-for, celebrity-studded awards AND ceremonies, specially when it comes to recognizing outstanding work in theatrics. The BIG ONE on the British calendar – the LONDON EVENING STANDARD THEATRE AWARDS happened last Sunday, with the Who’s Who and Who’s That? of Theatre coming together for a night of pretty frocks, sharp suits, funny, witty speeches and endless champagne.
Theatre has always been the poor cousin to Film in the Money & Fame stakes , yet it is where many crave recognition, from both – the public and their peers. It’s relatively easy to ‘perform’ with the aid of technology – blue screens, body-doubles, 44 retakes, if needed, in addition to being tapped on the head by a magic wand in Post Production which can ‘fix’ virtually anything.
But can you cut it on your own in a dark room, oozing wit and charm, love and lust, humour and pathos, as envisaged by someone else ( the playwright / author / poet ) – getting the lines and the emotions spot on, show after show, in a room full of strangers who’ve paid good money to come and see you. Can you do it ?
I’ll tell you who can.
GILLIAN ANDERSON !!
She took home the Natasha Richardson Award for Best Actress for playing Blanche DuBois in A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE, the Tennessee Williams classic, self-admittedly her best performance ever which I was lucky to witness.
I got the impression that playing Blanche is to an actress, what playing Hamlet is probably to an actor. There’s prestige, there’s tremendous ( illustrious ) history, layers and layers of emotion, reams of dialogue and attempts to embrace a story that has stood the test of time. And a burning desire to make it your own.
Few can master that.
Even though she’s lived in London for many years now, Gillian was obviously drafted in to lend Hollywood glamour to this play, drawing from her 20 years in Film and TV, most notably as Agent Dana Scully in the X-FILES ( the very embodiment of a “Thinking Man’s Crumpet” )
Prior to its short, much anticipated run this summer, A STREETCAR… had already made history by becoming the fastest selling show EVER at the Young Vic. It was also filmed and broadcast to more than 2000 cinema screens worldwide. “Electrifying” was a word being used a LOT in describing this production.
Naturally, I was curious.
Gillian was following in the footsteps of a long, distinguished line of women. The Guardian did a little tribute in pictures to remind us of the famous names who’d gone before her.
Anderson’s interpretation of Blanche was a personal and artistic benchmark – overstrung, fragile but profoundly sympathetic – in a radical production by Australian director Benedict Andrews who plucked the story out of its original home – a decrepit, disreputable corner of 1940s New Orleans and hauled it up to the present.
The set was nothing but a slow-revolving square, an intimate audience huddled all around it.
A few columns and beams ( a mere suggestion of “walls” ) enclosing a free-standing sink, door, bathtub, dressing table, bed, some chairs and a stairway, dotted haphazardly within that square and flimsy net curtains separating bedroom from bathroom, interior from exterior, perception from reality – IKEA minimalism at its best!
Here’s what director Benedict Andrews said about his unique vision for the play.
The set design was sheer genius! Adding an extra dimension to the narrative, playing mind-games with the audience while constantly altering their perspective in more ways than one.
In course of the 3 and a half hours, the actors rarely ever leave the stage. All the action – change of scenery, change of costume, the pacing of dialogue, screams, laughter, tears, tantrums, breaking glass, slamming doors, copious consumption of alcohol, conversations fraught with danger and sexual frisson – we see it ALL – right there, before us in all-encompassing 360 degrees and nowhere to hide. It’s uncomfortable viewing.
Often, you get the feeling that you shouldn’t really be there, watching and listening in on the characters going about their lives, hurtling towards certain disaster.
Slowly, Tennessee Williams peels one layer after another with admirable finesse, taking you closer and closer to the real Blanche DuBois – a booze-worn beauty and disgraced schoolmistress whose haughty charm while seeking sanctuary in her sister’s claustrophobic apartment is a red rag to her brutish brother-in-law, Stanley.
A lot in the story is implied. And Gillian Anderson speaks louder with her silence than anyone else I know. She elevates Ms. DuBois to dizzying heights with her stellar performance of a woman beaten, broken but unwilling to let go. I can’t remember a time in the theatre, or elsewhere, when I’ve gone from laughter to tears in under 30 seconds…when I’ve loathed and loved a character so much, all at once.
The fabulous Miss Anderson nailed it for me.
The London Stage is no stranger to Hollywood glamour and I’ve seen my fair share of stars in the last 13 years, patiently queued up at the Stagedoor for autographs on my Programme, eaten soggy tubs of Haagen Dazs during Interval…and done all the rest of it.
But Gillian Anderson turned an awesome performance into an unforgettable experience for me.
It doesn’t happen everyday.