If you read my previous post, then you’ll know that I am a big fan of the Tennessee Williams play A Streetcar Named Desire.
There are few things in this world that I could watch endlessly on repeat. There’s The Wire, 30 Rock, seasons 2-8 of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, the first 10 seasons of The Simpsons.
From the world of film; Casablanca, Robocop, Ghostbusters, Back to the Future, Shadow of a Doubt, Die Hard, The Truman Show to name a few.
From the world of theatre that list is smaller, An Enemy of the People, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Glengarry Glenross and of course, A Streetcar Named Desire.
A Streetcar Named Desire is probably the play that I have seen the most. What is it about that play that makes it so rewatchable. It’s a play that bypasses the intellect and talks straight to the heart. It goes on a journey that takes us into the darkness of our own subconscious. It tells us truths about ourselves that are timeless and universal. Like The Bible or something more modern like The Truman Show, the text remains the same but you have changed. You get out of it what you bring to it. It’s that cave from The Empire Strikes Back.
In short, I don’t know.
All I know is that whenever it’s on, I need to see it.
A Streetcar Named Desire Ballet
Back in 2012, there was a ballet adaptation of the play. I’d never seen ballet before, but I was willing to take a risk and see what it would be like. I was familiar with the plot so I was interested to see what they would do with the material. Didn’t know how the company were going to transpose it to ballet but to be honest, I was curious.
I like the idea of the familiar. It’s good to know what you’re getting. I like the same but different and if you’re being honest so do you. Spoilers are not the worst thing in the world, and people who make a song and dance over them piss me off.
“Don’t spoil Endgame for me.”
“There’s a trailer for another Spider-man film out. Didn’t die in the last one?”
You want the same but different. The reason why you will try watching a critically acclaimed show on Amazon only to quit out and watch The Office.
You don’t like anything too strange, neither do I.
You want the same but different.
A Streetcar Named Desire Ballet fit the bill.
Purchased my ticket and we’re off.
This was extra special
In my seat with my girlfriend at the time the show started.
It became apparent almost immediately that this was going to be something special.
There was no arrival of Blanche; there was something else instead.
Once I realised what was going on the piece clicked with me.
It wasn’t apparent, and it was done in such a subtle way that I was confused at first.
You’re probably wondering what it was that they did that took this adaptation to the next level.
Let me tell you.
The company took the text of the play and made it visual. They got to tell a story that spanned a broader scope of time than the events of the play.
The first half of the ballet tells the story of Belle Reve, Blanche’s marriage and her time at the Pink Flamingo.
The events of the play don’t occur until the second act.
This is how you do an adaptation.
You don’t just retell the events of the work and do that. You look for what the story is and tell that to the audience.
This was a genius move on the part of Scottish Ballet.
Ballet, for the uninitiated like myself, is silent. The story must be told silently, physically in front of the audience.
You can’t hint at things, and you can’t reference Edgar Allen Poe the way the play did. It is pure storytelling at it’s finest.
There is another added effect that telling the story this way has on you.
Telling Blanche’s story chronologically makes her a more tragic figure.
Can I tell you something that’s not cool?
Blanche is a pain in the arse. Yes, it’s sad what happens to her, but she is given opportunity after opportunity, to tell the truth. She refuses to do so and is institutionalised. We feel sorry, but there is a poetic justice to it in the same way that you would feel for Oedipus.
She’s a tragic figure. She has much in common with Oedipus only she’s passive.
Oedipus actively seeks to solve the mystery of who killed his father in the hopes of ending the plague. At several points, he is told to stop but he keeps on, and for his sins he has his eyes gouged out. What is Blanche’s goal? This could be a massive oversimplification, is to reconnect with her sister. That goal is achieved at the start of the play.
Blanche is not told to abandon her quest. They ask her to tell the truth about what happened, but she is a snob with airs and graces.
She’s Hyacinth Bucket with a Southern drawl.
There’s a reason she avoids bright light.
A bright light would reveal the truth.
The ballet makes Blanche more sympathetic because we go on the journey with her. That decision elevated the work to the next level.
I can’t overstate this next point enough but here goes:
A Streetcar Named Desire Ballet is one of the best things I have ever seen.
Not just in a theatre space but in general. If I were married with kids, it’d probably be sandwiched between getting the keys to my first house and the birth of the middle child (because seriously who loves the middle child?).
OK, I might be overstating just a little, but I can still see the movements in my mind’s eye.
Highlights of the piece were:
- Belle Reve collapsing by having building blocks taken away.
- There is a family photograph, with each camera flash a member either leaves or dies, the family portrait gets smaller and smaller until Blanche remains.
- Blanche seeing the ghost of her dead husband whenever she is reminded of the past.
- The first appearance of Stanley, the most ripped masculine dude I ever laid eyes on. You get a real feeling of the raw sexuality of the piece. An idea of what made Marlon Brando a heartthrob all those years ago.
- After Stanley’s attack at the end, Blanche can barely dance by herself.
There is probably more that I have forgotten. I’m probably misremembering what I have described.
If you want to see the actual play itself, it is currently showing at the Lyric.
You can buy tickets here.
Full disclosure I haven’t seen this current production yet. I’m away to London for a few days so I will see it when I get back.
You know I’ll be writing a review when I do.
As for final thoughts on the ballet?
It felt familiar yet new. Like I was seeing it for the first time.
It was the same but different.