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Gillian Anderson goes back to Blanche for prequel to A Streetcar Named Desire

The Departure, a Young Vic short film starring and directed by Anderson, will be available to watch exclusively on from Friday 6 February

By Chris Wiegand
The Guardian: 5 February, 2015

It is the most striking of entrances: from around a corner comes Blanche DuBois - carrying a valise, "daintily dressed" as if for a cocktail party and with "shocked disbelief" on her face as she arrives at her sister Stella's New Orleans home in A Streetcar Named Desire. Why is she here and what has she left behind?

Gillian Anderson, who played Blanche in an award-winning performance at the Young Vic theatre in London, has returned to the role for a short film exploring those days before Blanche's arrival in the play. The Departure has been made for the Young Vic series of shorts that complement the theatre's main-house productions. It will be available to watch exclusively on from 9am GMT on Friday 6 February.

"When Blanche first arrives at Elysian Fields [the street where Stella lives], you have the impression that she's a little shaky, perhaps from travel, and hyper," says Anderson. "You don’t have a sense yet of the depth of loneliness or despair or financial insecurity or tragedy that she has been through recently - and, it turns out, since childhood. That unravels during the play as Stanley starts to 'smoke her out' ... She arrives in a gold dress and gold shoes, seemingly put together. I was interested in the state she was in before she put on that armour and that facade and knocked on her sister's door."

The Departure is set in two locations that are unseen in Williams's play but exist almost as characters in their own right: Belle Reve, once the family's plantation home, and the seedy Flamingo hotel where Blanche attains notoriety. "When we first see her [in The Departure], she is coming back to Belle Reve from a funeral and you get the sense that it's the last of the lot. She's worn out and weighed down by the loss of her family," says Anderson. "She moves on to the Flamingo hotel, where she is kicked out after a dalliance with an underaged boy and she might be arrested for it. People have turned on her."

VIDEO: Tennessee waltz: Gillian Anderson on A Streetcar Named Desire

The film was shot on location at a "warehouse-slash-Georgian house" in Bermondsey, south London, days after Streetcar finished its acclaimed run at the Young Vic in September 2014. It was written, at Anderson's suggestion, by the author Andrew O'Hagan who calls Anderson "the most intelligent actress of her generation". "What's great about Andrew's writing," says the star, "is it upholds [Blanche's] attempt at maintaining her own dignity through denial."

Anderson, who previously directed herself in an episode of The X Files, is also the director of The Departure. She says the film is "like a curious study of a character in a period of time" and that it was designed to retain a "theatrical feel" and capture the "magic realist" element of Williams's writing - "moments in time that are suspended ... not otherworldly but suspended somehow, in between reality and non-reality".

For the actor-director it "felt effortless" to make the short at the end of Streetcar's run and delve into Blanche's backstory. She adds: "I feel like I have a clear idea of how she ends up after she is taken away by the doctors at the end of the play." So might there one day be a sequel to go alongside the prequel? "We did talk about it," she says, "it would be fun to do."

Directed by Benedict Andrews and utilising a striking revolving stage and a soundtrack including PJ Harvey, A Streetcar Named Desire was one of last year's most talked about theatre productions. It also gained a wider audience with a worldwide NT Live broadcast. For those who were unable to see the production on stage or screen, The Departure offers a taste of Anderson's portrayal. (In a four-star review, Michael Billington wrote that she "captures both Blanche's airy pretensions to grandeur and her desolate loneliness".

The Young Vic considers its short films to be a "fourth stage" for the theatre. They have been watched by more than 300,000 people since 2012. Recent shorts have included Mayday, starring Juliet Stevenson and directed by Natalie Abrahami, which explores themes from the pair's collaboration on Samuel Beckett's Happy Days. Their production of Beckett's play returns to the Young Vic on 13 February.

Details of the Young Vic's 2015 programme will be announced on Friday 6 February alongside the launch of The Departure.

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