A Streetcar Named Desire, Sadler's Wells, London

5.00

Tennessee Williams as dance? I do declare! But Scottish Ballet triumphs with a perfectly told tale

Impossible is clearly not a word Nancy Meckler chooses to hear. The theatre director who made her name compressing vast, sprawling novels for the stage with the company Shared Experience has now tackled a famously text-heavy play for Scottish Ballet.

Attempting to replicate the experience of Tennessee Williams's A Streetcar Named Desire without recourse to the sweaty New Orleans drawl of its language might seem like trying to open a bottle of bourbon in boxing gloves. But with the collaboration of choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa (a novice to full-length narrative dance despite an impressive list of credits) and composer Peter Salem (originator of the music for TV's Call the Midwife and an aficionado of 1940s jazz), this danced version is thrillingly persuasive.

Not only does it crackle with Southern heat and sexual tension, but it's a model of storytelling. No need to have seen the play or the film: everything is here, from the big themes of masculine-feminine, earth and air, to the smallest detail. Even Blanche DuBois' la-di-da way of speaking finds its way into a mincing step and a ladylike twitch of the skirt. You see the veins stiffen in irritation on her brother-in-law's neck every time she does it.

The boldest move, plot-wise, is to present Blanche's story chronologically, fleshing out the miserable backstory that in the original seeps out drip by drip: the failure of her marriage, the husband's suicide, the crumbling of the family home, Belle Reve, the subsequent search for "the comfort of strangers". Here, the unequivocal treatment of the husband's homosexuality in a man-on-man duet at first seems heavy-handed (and Tennessee Williams was anything but that). But this episode bears fruit strategically when memories of it return to madden Blanche, her dead husband dancing on and accusingly on in a blood-soaked shirt. It's a simple enough device, made dreamlike by Tim Mitchell's sooty lighting, which in turn lends a sticky claustrophobia to Niki Turner's empty set – a wall of grimy apartment windows and dangling bulbs.

That bare space is necessary for dancing in, but it's constantly redefined. Packing crates, stacked and restacked by members of the chorus to create the high-rise of New Orleans, are sat upon to suggest the jostling trolleybus of the title, or rearranged as cinema seats, or a living-room couch. Bare-boards theatre has been doing this sort of thing for 30 years. Amazing that it's taken this long – and Scottish Ballet's outgoing director, Ashley Page – to bring it to dance.

Tennessee Williams had toyed with calling his play The Moth, and this becomes Meckler's key image: the faded, fluttering Southern belle and the harsh bare lightbulb she is so intent on covering with a fancy Japanese shade. How clever of composer Peter Salem to have the popular song "It's Only a Paper Moon" issuing from the wireless when Stanley loses his rag at the disruption to his card game and throws the set out of the window. When there is violence, it feels horribly real.

The score, most of it live from a band in the pit, some of it recorded atmospheric noise, is the chief motor of this Streetcar. Drawing on a range of styles, from polite wedding waltzes to juicy New Orleans jazz to Philip Glass-ish noodling, it doesn't just underpin the action but offers emotional pointers ahead of the game. A blind man would know where he was in the story. The climax, where the "Paper Moon" theme shatters into a pile-up of discordant shards, isn't just a stirring aural metaphor for the chaos in Blanche's head, you can imagine it really is the sound in her head.

Scottish Ballet's principals prove first-rate, with Eve Mutso a mercurial and dangerously sympathetic Blanche, and Tama Barry a believably brutish Stanley, all scowl and pectorals. He even gets to roar "Stella!" like Marlon Brando. Sophie Martin's pregnant Stella is the moral touchstone, sensual and earthed. Her conciliatory duet with Stanley is not only startlingly gymnastic; it's almost certainly the most erotic thing on any stage right now.

 

His Majesty's, Aberdeen (0845 270 8200) 2-5 May; Eden Court, Inverness (01463 234 234) 9-12 May; Grand Opera House, Belfast (028-9024 0411) 16-19 May.

 

Next week

Jenny Gilbert signs up for Cuba's Ballet Revolucion

Critic's choice

Breakin' Convention – London's annual three-day festival of hip hop dance theatre – returns in its ninth edition and with an eight-venue tour to follow. A single day-ticket gives access to workshops, DJ demos, free-style sessions and live aerosol art as well as dozens of eye-popping main-stage performances. At Sadler's Wells (Sat to Mon 7 May); then touring till June.

Arts and Entertainment
Russell Tovey, Myanna Buring and Julian Rhind Tutt star in Banished

TV reviewGrace Dent: Jimmy McGovern's new drama sheds light on sex slavery in the colonies

Arts and Entertainment
Larry David and Rosie Perez in ‘Fish in the Dark’
theatreReview: Had Fish in the Dark been penned by a civilian it would have barely got a reading, let alone £10m advance sales
Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
80s trailblazer: comedian Tracey Ullman
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Stephen Tompkinson is back as DCI Banks
tvReview: Episode one of the new series played it safe, but at least this drama has a winning formula
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Former Communards frontman Jimmy Somerville
music
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Public Service Broadcasting are going it alone
music
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne as transgender artist Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl
filmFirst look at Oscar winner as transgender artist
Arts and Entertainment
Season three of 'House of Cards' will be returning later this month
TV reviewHouse of Cards returns to Netflix
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford will play Rick Deckard once again for the Blade Runner sequel
film review
Arts and Entertainment
The modern Thunderbirds: L-R, Scott, Virgil, Alan, Gordon and John in front of their home, the exotic Tracy Island
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift won Best International Solo Female (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
film review
Arts and Entertainment

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith arrives at the Brit Awards (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn's beheading in BBC Two's Wolf Hall

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Follow every rainbow: Julie Andrews in 'The Sound of Music'
film Elizabeth Von Trapp reveals why the musical is so timeless
Arts and Entertainment
Bytes, camera, action: Leehom Wang in ‘Blackhat’
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Libertines will headline this year's festival
music
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Dean Anderson in the original TV series, which ran for seven seasons from 1985-1992
tv
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
    Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

    Lost without a trace

    But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
    Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

    Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

    Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
    International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

    Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

    Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
    Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

    Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

    Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
    Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

    Confessions of a planespotter

    With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
    Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

    Russia's gulag museum

    Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
    The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

    The big fresh food con

    Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
    Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

    Virginia Ironside was my landlady

    Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
    Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

    Paris Fashion Week 2015

    The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
    8 best workout DVDs

    8 best workout DVDs

    If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
    Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

    Paul Scholes column

    I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
    Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

    From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

    Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
    Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

    Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

    The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
    War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

    Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

    Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable