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Silently horrifying: A Streetcar Named Desire by Scottish Ballet

By Rothery Sullivan

Theatre Royal Glasgow is transformed into the tragic, lustful chaos of New Orleans

Scottish Ballet’s performance of A Streetcar Named Desire, based on the play by Tennessee Williams, is choreographed by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, directed by Nancy Meckler, and accompanied by the Scottish Ballet Orchestra. It begins with protagonist Blanche (Marge Hendrick) falling in love with and marrying Alan (Javier Andreu) at her family home. However, Blanche rejects Alan after witnessing him having an affair with a man, which ultimately leads to his suicide. While grieving the death of her partner, Blanche remains at her family home. Blanche’s sister, Stella (Constance Devernay-Laurence), moves to New Orleans where she falls in love with Stanley (Evan Loudon). All is well until Blanche arrives at her door, seeking more than just sisterly companionship. 

The storytelling of Streetcar is enjoyable, engaging and emotive, and (critically) understandable for those who may not be familiar with the storyline beforehand. Nicola Turner’s set design creates a vivid sense of place despite its minimalist nature, often using sets that double as props. The most impressive part of the set design is Blanche’s family home, which is made of crates that collapse when Blanche’s family life begins to crumble. The movement of the crates reminds the audience that all aspects of the set design are engaged in the dance. These crates are used throughout the performance, seamlessly shapeshifting into each setting. 

The lighting of this performance, designed by Tim Mitchell, harnesses and guides the audience’s emotions through pivotal scenes. The use of shadows establishes an eerie and unsettling mood from the exposition, foreshadowing the trauma and violence to come. Pendant light bulbs are used throughout, not only to set the scene of New Orleans and show the impoverished state of Stella’s apartment, but also to allow Blanche and Mitch (Blanche’s love interest) to hang a lantern on the light. 

The sound design, by Peter Salem, builds tension and creates a sense of loss. Extended periods of silence are deployed skillfully in this performance, drawing the audience to the edge of their seat and subverting their expectations to create a sense of fear. Similarly, Ella Fitzgerald’s song ‘It’s Only A Paper Moon’ is first played when Blanche and Mitch share their first dance, and is twisted into an eerie, unsettling soundtrack by the end of the performance, when Blanche is forcibly committed to a psychiatric hospital. 

As a ballet, the dancers’ movements hold the preponderance of the audience’s attention. The performance comes with content warnings for domestic and sexual violence, which are delicately yet veridically depicted through Hendrick, Devernay-Laurence and Loudon’s performance. 

The performances from these talented dancers, along with the emotive sound design and clever lighting, leave audiences horror-stricken as the curtains fall. 


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