The Scottish Ballet adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ play demonstrates how sometimes a visual medium can convey just as successfully emotions and relationships originally designed to be expressed through the spoken word.
A Streetcar Named Desire explores the clash of two cultures as Blanche DuBois, a faded and penniless Southern belle, comes to New Orleans to find her sister Stella in the arms of the aggressive, domineering Stanley Kowalski. Her life is already fraught with tragedy, and Stanley ruins her last chance for happiness, while his wife Stella stands silently by because she has too much to lose by siding with Blanche in the struggle.
In Williams’ play, Blanche’s troubled past is alluded to as the drama unfolds. In the absence of dialogue, this back-story is played out through several scenes showing her life in the Deep South. Much more is made of Alan, Blanche’s closeted homosexual husband who committed suicide, and who here appears in the opening scenes and subsequent dream sequences. The pas de trois of Blanche, Alan and his new lover feels like a medieval Dance of Death that foretells the suicide, while the numerous deaths in Blanche’s family are revealed through a series of gatherings at funerals.
As Blanche, there is vibrant fluidity to Eve Mutso’s movements, and yet the complexity of the steps demanded of her by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s choreography hint at her underlying despair and unease. Tama Barry, as Stanley, is simultaneously thuggish yet slick in his physicality, while Sophie Martin’s Stella has a clean stride that emphasises her own needfulness. Peter Salem’s specially devised score uses different instruments to capture a variety of moods. Folk-style strings initially dominate, while melancholic strains hint at the dying way of life in the South. Then, as we hit New Orleans, jazz takes over, the piano adopts a more central role, and the noise of trains and sirens fill the room.
Nancy Meckler’s adaptation works well as a piece in its own right, though there are some occasions when the choreography is insufficient to capture the psychology of the moment. There are also some scenes which feel as they have been inserted for visual impact alone – a bowling scene, which could almost have come straight out of West Side Story, is a case in point.
That said, many of the play’s key details are effectively incorporated. Blanche’s determination for Mitch not to see her ageing face is symbolised by her asking him to shade a naked light, while the song ‘Paper Moon,’ which she originally sings to herself in the bath, recurs throughout the evening. The ballet captures the intensity of emotion perfectly in the two sex (or, in one case, rape) scenes. Neither are particularly explicit, but they are able to convey the complexity of the characters of Stella and Blanche, a combination of love, lust, dependence and desire.
Following its run at Sadler’s Wells, A Streetcar Named Desire will appear at His Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen (2-5 May), Eden Court, Inverness (9-12 May), and the Grand Opera House, Belfast (16-19 May).