Given the perfection of Scottish Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker at the end of last year, it would be forgivable if their latest production did not quite match up to this incredibly high standard. But there is nothing to forgive, as A Streetcar Named Desire not only matches it, but soars to even greater heights.
Director Nancy Meckler and Choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa take Tennessee Williams’ haunting and tragic account of women’s place in society in America’s deep south in the ‘30s and ‘40s and, along with composer Peter Salem add to the original while losing nothing from the complexity of the original story.
This makes for a breathtaking, unforgettable performance. Opening with Blanche DuBois (Eva Mutso) dancing alone beneath a bare lightbulb – a reference to Williams’ original intention to call the play The Moth – it takes us through the DuBois family back story. Particularly fine use of lighting, together with inventive sets, come in to play as the decline of the family fortunes reaches a climax with the eventual destruction of their mansion, Belle Reve.
With it comes the end of Blanche’s marriage, as she finds husband Alan (Victor Zarallo) in the arms of his male lover. Zarallo’s duet with Thomas Edwards conveys all the desire and also the trepidation that this forbidden passion engenders, making Alan’s subsequent suicide all the more poignant.
Widowed, alone and penniless, Blanche drifts through a life that she defines by the men who flit through her hotel room until, now dependent on alcohol to get her through the days, she decides to join her sister Stella (Sophie Martin) in New Orleans.
But Stella’s husband Stanley (Erik Cavallari) is brutish and bullying in his treatment of his wife, and has even less regard for her sister. And so the tragic climax of the piece; raped by Stanley and abandoned by her pregnant sister who chooses to remain with her husband and allows him to have Blanche committed.
It is quite astounding that this play, rightly revered for the skilled wordcraft of its author, is presented here with hardly a word spoken. Yet if you came to it never having seen or read the original, it would be no barrier to your understanding of the events on stage.
Perhaps the only thing that gives pause is that in the erotic “make-up” duet between Stanley and Stella, she is supposed to be heavily pregnant – the finely-toned body of the exquisite Ms Martin gives the lie to that. But that is a minor quibble, and I come not to quibble, but to praise.
And the highest praise is due to all connected with this magnificent production. In particular the three principals excel. Cavallari is a perfect Stanley, soon dispelling any thoughts of Brando’s screen version with his magnetic performance. And Scottish Ballet is blessed to have both Sophie Martin, who combines such expressive performances with technical brilliance, and Eve Mutso, whose astonishing, nuanced portrayal of Blanche is at the centre of everything and could surely not be bettered.
(I once referred to Eve Mutso as “almost impossibly graceful”. Shame on me, there should be no “almost” in there).