A Streetcar Named Desire, Donmar Warehouse, London

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The Independent Culture

I don't want realism, I want magic," cries Blanche DuBois in Tennessee Williams's 1947 New Orleans masterpiece of broken dreams and tragic collapse, and she speaks for anyone who ever entered a theatre.

Rachel Weisz strikes a resonating cord as Blanche, the disgraced teacher and alcoholic young widow who has washed up on her sister's front door in the Elysian Fields district, seeking shelter and possibly a new life.

No heroine ever started like this at rock bottom and stayed there for three hours while she deals with the advances of her sister's vengeful husband, Stanley Kowalski, and fights her demons. She was married to a very young boy who blew his brains out when she found him in the embrace of an older man.

Yup, it's very advanced this play in its almost metaphorical sexual ambiguity and director Rob Ashford – who's really best known as a choreographer – has filled in a ghostly mime show of the dead boy and his lover, the lurking medical staff and the flower seller .

The good thing is that Weisz is so aptly young. Williams specifies her age as about 30, and her sister Stella, beautifully played here by Ruth Wilson, as 25-ish.

The big shadow is cast by Marlon Brando in the film as Stanley, the greasy son of Polish immigrants. At the Donmar, Elliot Cowan goes down the wrong Olympian athlete route beaten by Iain Glen at the National seven years ago playing opposite a brilliant but unarguably over-age Glenn Close.

And Cowan is simply too English, too public school even, too Mr Darcy, a role he played on television in the Jane Austen send-up recently.

Weisz starts vague and wispy, with that glinting, cunning deceptiveness of the dedicated drinker, but she misses an awful lot of the role's cutting cruelty and sheer drag-queen bitchiness. The line with the telephone – "I can't dial, honey" – is lost upstage. But she finds real pathos in her temporary berth with the dogged, domesticated Mitch (Barnaby Kay): "Sometimes, there's God, so quickly."

This Streetcar's qualities lie not so much in performance as in the revelation of a still ground-breaking dramatic, almost filmic, deliquescent structure and poetry.

To 3 October (0870 060 6624; www.donmarwarehouse.com)