Based on the play by Tennesse Williams
Directed by Nancy Meckler
Choreography by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa
A paradox occurs: the still frigid stone of Edinburgh collides with the steam and intensity of a New Orleans summer for the return of Scottish Ballet’s A Streetcar Named Desire, revitalised after eight years in slumber by a Royal Ballet guest performance from captivating Ryoichi Hirano, and a career-defining moment for Marge Hendrick’s Blanche DuBois.
Narrative is manipulated to offer a tighter construction and flow for the ballet, restructuring Tennessee William’s eleven-scene play to strip away Blanche’s mysterious past and instead front-loads the production to grasp the audience with the tragic back story of the ageing Southern debutante. The beats remain the same otherwise – Blanche’s arrival to her sisters in destitution and desperation are met with ire by her controlling husband, Stanley, whose bitter class resentment cannot enable him to look far beyond Blanche’s troubled past.
The shock and awe begin not only within the narrative evolution of character so early on but with Nicola Turner’s clever, adaptable design which turns the DuBois family mansion into a collapsible series of ingeniously locked beer crates. At the point of its collapse, the audience comprehends that Nancy Meckler’s A Streetcar Named Desire grasps the semantical gravity of Williams’ masterpiece – and understands the narrative better than any medium has before. Yes, including cinema.
There’s a presence of authorship, Tennessee William’s intentions onstage throughout – echoing a voice of the story to the Edinburgh audience, enraptured by every unspoken word the piece conjures. This is narrative-led storytelling at its most fascinatingly pure. Despite its indoctrination into the minds of all A-level English and Drama students, A Streetcar Named Desire is far from the quick-hit critical analysis machine we are led to believe. The complexity of emotional trauma, fantasy and fragility are all here, captured in movement. Captured in music. Captured in humanity.
But it isn’t only a phantom voice echoing from the stage, as Scottish Ballet’s production is a stimulant for the senses in all manners – the intensity of the heat, the thickness of the New Orleans air is captured right there on the Festival Theatre stage in Tim Mitchell’s amber lighting. The presence of so many naked bulbs, some a Mardi Gras explosion of light, for Blanche the nudeness of the light is a crippling detail of character carried into fruition. The way the lighting hones upon emotional importance is matched only with Peter Salem’s cinematic scale score, a tight blend of pre-recorded ambience and an infusion of jazz from the stripped-back, but ever-impressive Scottish Ballet Orchestra, conducted by Robert Baxter.
Ryoichi Hirano’s Stanley is no bullish thug; this is the paradigm of revoltingly toxic masculinity, a man others would worryingly idolise, but under the physique is remarkably shrewd and callous, and Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s choreography magnifies this immensely. There’s one aspect to Hirano’s movements: control. It results in endless lifts and physical exertion over Bethany Kingsley-Garner’s gorgeously carried Stella, maintaining a sense of status high above any they share the stage with.
The terrifying truth in their movements is the passion which Lopez Ochoa conjures in their duets – there is no denying that mingled in the violence, in the brutality, is an immoral sense of seduction. The distorted mirror movements Hirano shares with Kingsley-Garner and Marge Hendrick’s Blanch are revolting in how atrocious Hirano’s Stanley can be, Kingsley-Garner’s Stella is fully able to stand their ground with fluid movements, yet a solid core. Blanche, horrifically, is less able.
There’s a sympathetic realism in Hendrick’s performance: a feather which once possessed an iron core, stripped and removed. It’s as beautiful in precision as it is discomforting in distortion. Hendrick, Jerome Barnes (Blanche’s new beau Mitch), and Javier Andreu’s ( Blanche’s deceased husband, Alan) moments together are a bittersweet reflection on the doomed love which sparked this entire sorry affair. Andreu’s continuous haunting of Blanche, each duet or ensemble performance the pair perform reinforces the poison spreading through Blanche’s sanity, every stumble, dissolve, and fragile crumble working to demonstrate how much of Hendrick’s performance is a career-defining one.
Scottish Ballet’s A Streetcar Named Desire is remarkable, quite simply remarkable. To deftly handle a source material so traversed and explored and capture not only the tormenting beauty of the original but still impart something unique and fresh into the mix is stunning. This, unsurprisingly, is difficult, agonising to watch in moments. But Meckler and Lopez Ochoa’s production is forthright – not shirking from Williams’ painful moments, confronting the truth of fantasies’ inability to triumph over reality: regardless of how heart-breaking it may be: that no matter how hard you believe it to be true, It’s Only a Paper Moon.
Remarkable, Simply Remarkable
A Streetcar Named Desire runs at the Festival Theatre until May 6th. Wednesday – Saturday at 19.30pm.
Runs for two hours with one interval. Suitable for 15+. Tickets begin from £27.50 and may be obtained here.