Robert Tanitch reviews Scottish Ballet’s A Streetcar Named Desire at Sadler’s Wells Theatre, London

Robert Tanitch reviews Scottish Ballet’s A Streetcar Named Desire at Sadler’s Wells Theatre, London

There have been many fine revivals of Tennessee Williams’s greatest play since its 1947 Broadway premiere, a landmark in American theatre history; but none has been able to erase the memories of the performances by Marlon Brando, Vivien Leigh and Karl Malden in the Elia Kazan 1951 film.

The great strength of Scottish Ballet’s inventive version, which mixes drama, ballet and musical, is its dramaturgy. The dance narrative has a director, Nancy Meckler, and a choreographer, Annabelle Lopez Ochoa. Audiences who know the play will appreciate just how crystal clear their scenario is.

Blanche Dubois, the faded, vulnerable Southern belle, one of the great modern roles, sees herself as a heroine in a play by Alexander Dumas. “I don’t want realism!” she cries. “I want magic!” She loses everything – inheritance, home, family, husband and finally her mind.

The ballet begins with the back story in the old South before the destitute Blanche comes to New Orleans in the 1940’s to stay with her sister, Stella, who is married to the brutal Stanley Kowalski.

Blanche had married a young man who turned out to be gay. He committed suicide. Her promiscuous behaviour, which included the seduction of a youngster, shocked the community so much, she was expelled.

The past continues to haunt her. There are flashbacks to her husband and her notorious reliance on the kindness of strangers. The choreography and the music express Williams’s text so well.

Peter Salem’s contemporary, jazzy, atmospheric score, which uses original and natural sounds, plus an electronic beat, is particularly effective. There is no dialogue, only a popular song, Only a Paper Moon (heard on the radio), and one single word, Stanley yelling his wife’s name, Stellaaaaaaa!

Nicola Turner’s design is minimalist. The DuBois family mansion crumbles before our eyes, leaving a pile of debris and packing crates, which are then constantly moved around the stage and re-arranged, quickly and effectively by the dancers, creating different locations.

At the performance I attended, Blanche and Stanley were danced by Roseanna Leney and Benjamin Thomas. The scene which had the most erotic and traumatic impact – so brutal it silenced the theatre – is when Stanley rapes Blanche. The silence on stage and in the auditorium was deafening.

Scottish Ballet’s A Streetcar Named Desire, not seen since 2015, deserves to be revived much more often.

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