17 May 2024

Scottish Ballet, A Streetcar Named Desire

Scottish Ballet makes its now annual trip to London and this year brings back its much-lauded Streetcar Named Desire. This is good…

Marge Hendrick in “A Streetcar Named Desire”. © Andy RossMarge Hendrick in “A Streetcar Named Desire”. © Andy Ross

Scottish Ballet
A Streetcar Named Desire
★★★★✰ London, Sadler’s Wells
16 May 2024
Runs through to 19 May 2024

Scottish Ballet’s A Streetcar Named Desire is not multi-award-winning for nothing - it really does pack one hell of a dramatic punch as a crack team of creatives fires on all cylinders (well, very nearly all).

Tennessee Williams’ 1940s story of the fall of fading Southern belle’ Blanche DuBois is dense with plot and characters. However, neither Nancy Meckler (director) nor Annabelle Lopez Ochoa (choreographer) particularly look to radically simplify that complexity. They do, though, seamlessly lead you through, but you must read the synopsis to follow just how bleak the twists and turns of the narrative are. I won’t attempt to paraphrase here, but Scottish Ballet gives a heads-up that it …includes depictions of suicide, addiction, homophobia, and domestic and sexual violence.”

Streetcar starts slowly as it establishes the characters and yet races through the complexity. There are times in the first act when you would want to linger on a duet or mine a relationship in richer detail, but the apparent need to maintain narrative momentum drives things ever on, and you might start to wonder why this production is rated so highly. But all that changes with the poker game at the end of Act 1, and suddenly, the surface narrative gives way to a much more absorbing and gritty danced reality that captures characters at a much more profound level. And Act 2 is just as gripping. And yes, some eye-catching dancing/hoofing routines are scattered around, but this is essentially about putting a magnifying glass on a handful of disappointing and disappointed characters, where nobody comes out well.

Peter Salem’s music/soundscape picks up on the period while offering fractured, eery, and atmospheric support of the tragic action. Also commendable are Nicola Turner’s set and period costumes. The set, made of many multi-use boxes, is particularly clever for its ability to echo Blanche’s unstable life and attempts to rebuild herself. And hovering over all is Tim Mitchell’s lighting grid, which always isolates the action and directs the eye. They really are a crack team.

London’s opening cast was powerfully headed by Marge Hendrick, at her most convincing in showing Blanche’s fragile mind and flights of fancy. A body flickering between reality and another place - so believable. Evan Loudon’s Stanley is breathtaking and almost too real and nasty. As I write, I shudder even thinking about his portrayal. And Claire Souet well captures the sparky but downtrodden character of Stella. I also much enjoyed Thomas Edwards’ Mitch - all gauche fingers and thumbs.

It’s a highly recommended production but you must read the synopsis and go with the flow of the slow dramatic start.