When I found out that Scottish Ballet were bringing their adaption of "A Streetcar Named Desire" to The Festival Theatre, I must admit that I was curious (and a bit cautious) about how they would adapt this Tennessee Williams classic to a ballet. The advertising also indicated visual elements from the classic Marlon Brando and Vivien Leigh 1951 film adaption. For me, this was always going to be an outstanding hit or an absolute disaster (there was never any room for a middle ground on this one). Well, I am happy to report that my faith in Scottish Ballet remains unbroken.
Our three principal characters are of course Blanche Dubois (Eve Mutso), her sister Stella (Sophie Martin) and Stellas brutish husband Stanley (Erik Cavallari). To single any of these three out would be unfair, but off course the focus of the whole story is on Blanch, and Eva is outstanding in this role tonight.
Unlike the original play, some of what we learn later in the story is turned into a earlier introductory segment to Blanches life. We begin with Blanch outside her large southern home (Belle Reve) looking up at the moon and waiting for her family gathering for her marriage to Alan. The song "It's Only A Paper Moon" written by Harold Alden and published in 1933 is one of the few musical items not specially written for this new work, but it is significant as it plays thoughout Blanches life. Blanch however finds her new husband with another man (this element was removed from the 1951 film) and Alan commits suicide by shooting himself. As other family members die, Blanch loses her home and her life takes its eventual road to moving to New Orleans to stay with her sister Stella and Stanley (stellas husband). Life in the cramped space is far removed from her gentile southern upbringing and drink and psychosis take their toll on blanch as she is haunted by people from her past as well as dealing with the brutal Stanley.
This is a very new piece of work from Scottish ballet that only premiered in 2012. It is an original and bold piece. Everything is new, direction (Nancy Meckler), Choreography (Annabelle Lopez Ochoa), music (Peter Salem), Design (Niki Turner) and Lighting Design (Tim Mitchell). I mention everyone here as this is a performance where everything blends in and works well. You can not take one creative element out of this work as it would just fall to bits without the whole. I have to admit that listening to some of the audience tonight, that some were very divided on this performance. I have to admit also that I loved it. To me the choreography was perfect. Dancing on stage covered a wide range of styles from classical to modern and pretty much everything in between. Many of the dance routines reminded me of classic 1940s and 1950 Hollywood musicals. There was something very "Gene Kelly" about many of the male dancers tonight. Some of the choreography was also a bit edgier and darker and may not have been to everyones taste, but this was a very dark story that was being told. It is always nice to see Scottish Ballets dancers move away from their classical roles and Streetcar just shows what a strong and diverse company they are.
I found the set design interesting as there really was little to it, and somehow it worked. The set was basically crates that assembled like lego bricks to be whatever was required at the time -a bed, chairs, tables for example. The opening backdrop use was also most effective. At the very start Blanch is outside what looks like a photographic backdrop of her home, but backdrop is actually made up of dozens of crates that collapse into a huge heap behind much as Blanches southern home and life collapse about her.
As for the principal dancer? Well Eve Mutso is a one of those dancers that you just know is going to put in an amazing performance and the role of Blanch just seems to be perfect for her. Eve is also an acomplished enough "actress" to play this role in this slmost silent cinema style. Sophie Martin as Stell makes a perfect counterpoint to Eves Blanch, and Erik Cavallari has that physical prescence that is needed to play Stanley - particularly as the scence of Stanley shouting for Stella is kept in this performance.
As I said, reaction seems to have been a bit divided in the audience tonight, but for me this is a modern classic that I hope becomes a firm part of Scottish Ballets touring repetoire. It is fine to keep the classics alive and perform them regularly, but to survive and artistic media needs to be constantly moving foreward and developing new workks and ideas. Streetcar is simply a modern classic for future generations to discover and enjoy and I hope that this piece of work travels far outside the confines of its original creators.
Review by Tom King