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'A Streetcar Named Desire' by Scottish Ballet Review: A Mesmerising Take on a Classic

★★★★★

On May 16th, the Sadler’s Wells theatre stage was graced with the Scottish Ballet for their opening night performance of ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’. I entered the theatre dubious, the play holding a sentimental place in my heart from my A-level English days, unsure that a play that contained such beautiful lyrical prose could be adequately performed without the language itself. Having seen two other stage productions of the play, including the recent adaptation with Paul Mescal as Stanley, my expectations were high. However, the adaptation surprised me; it was a beautifully performed, intricately designed performance.

Marge Hendrick as Blanche in Scottish Ballet's 'A Streetcar Named Desire'. Photography by Andy Ross.

Unlike the original play, the ballet opened with the scene of Alan’s death where Blanche, discovering she has married a man who engages in homosexual relations in secret, rejects him and Alan shoots himself. Rather than allowing snippets of Blanche’s traumatic past to seep in throughout the play, this adaptation focuses on her trauma, building sympathy for her character from the offset. Within the first few scenes we see Blanche lose her husband, her family estate and be kicked out of her town for seducing a teenage boy. Though a flawed character, staging the narrative in this way enables us to sympathise with Blanche from the beginning of the performance, giving her character a much greater tragic focus than I found in the original stage play.


Blanche, played by Marge Hendrick, danced beautifully throughout the performance, conveying the fragility and mental disturbance of Blanche with ease.  Alongside Stanley (Evan Loudon) and Stella (Claire Souet), the dancers accurately embody the culpability they all hold in Blanche’s tragic downfall.

Bethany Kingsley-Garner and Marge Hendrick in Scottish Ballet's 'A Streetcar Named Desire'. Photography by Andy Ross.

The production maintained the historical setting of late 1940s New Orleans, charged with jazz music played by the orchestra and scenes staged in bowling alleys and jazz bars to embody the liveliness of the period. As the later scenes unravel, tragedy is mixed with humour, alleviating the largely emotionally charged performance at the right moments. Brief moments of language appear in a fight between the men at the bowling alley, where they taunt and shout at each other, which felt almost out of place with the previous non-dialogue in the first twenty minutes.  I do believe the ballet would have been just as affective without these snippets of dialogue. However, I was reassured when Stanely bellows the infamous ‘Stellaaaaaaaaa’, followed by an erotically charged dance between the two as they rekindle their love. Although I did feel a lack of chemistry between the dancers playing Stanley and Stella, they still danced with extreme precision and emotion, adequately conveying the lust-driven relationship.

Unlike many other adaptations—where Stanley typically outshines Blanche, often cast as well-known, attractive men like Marlon Brando and Paul Mescal—this version places Blanche as the primary protagonist.

What pleased me most about this version of A Streetcar Named Desire was Blanche’s performance. Unlike many other adaptations—where Stanley typically outshines Blanche, often cast as well-known, attractive men like Marlon Brando and Paul Mescal—this version places Blanche as the primary protagonist, focusing much more on her trauma and tragic downfall. It is refreshing to see someone playing Stanley who does not dominate the performance, but allows for their characterisation of Stanley to still remain despicable and hated by the end. Evan Loudon succeeds in transforming Stanley into the villain he is, cemented by the final scene where he stands cradling his and Stella’s newborn baby as Blanche, suffering a mental breakdown, is led off the stage by a doctor.


The end of the play, where Blanche is sexually assaulted by Stanley, is unexpectedly graphic. Typically, stage productions tend to minimise or have the action take place off-stage, but I was impressed by the production's choice to stage it in such a direct, confrontational manner. Although hard to watch, the struggle between Stanley and Blanche was staged carefully, leaning into Stanley’s heinous primal instincts to claim dominance over Blanche and defile her. The raw emotions of the characters paired with a moving dance scene that flittered between Blanche’s fighting and her eventual inability to hold off Stanley anymore encompasses the tragedy of the narrative, solidifying our utter hatred for Stanley by the culmination of the ballet.

Marge Hendrick as Blanche in Scottish Ballet's 'A Streetcar Named Desire'. Photography by Andy Ross

With minimal set design, the ballet thrived on its dancers' ability to perform emotionally and technically. Fore-fronting the dancers rather than an extravagant set added to the sombre mood of the performance, with low lighting and limited props that enabled the outstanding technical ability of the dancers to shine through. The score performed by the live orchestra only added to the ambiance, with a mixture of jazz, Latin and blues music intertwined with electronic beats and noises typical of a city location. I enjoyed seeing small influences from the original stage play be incorporated, such as Ella Fitzgerald’s It’s Only a Paper Moon, and the paper lantern. It was a great nod to the original script without relying too heavily on sticking to it.


Overall, the Scottish Ballet offered an outstanding adaptation of A Streetcar Named Desire, remaining within the story's original setting yet adapting the playscript for a modern audience. The ballet dancers gave an exceptional performance, displaying their dancing skills whilst accurately embodying their characters. From production to performers, this is a great instance of adapting a much-loved classic and offering a new, unique twist.

 

A Streetcar Named Desire runs at Sadler’s Well theatre between 16-19th May. Sadler’s Wells offers £10 tickets to those aged 16-30 for select performances. More information can be found on their website.

 

Edited by Georgia Gibson, Theatre Editor.

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