A Streetcar Named Desire, Sadler’s Wells, London

For nearly two decades, until his death in 1987, Peter Darrell splendidly guided the destiny of Scottish Ballet, of which he was the founder. He was a prolific and skilled choreographer, his full-evening stagings having great appeal and great distinction. (His Mary, Queen of Scots boasted a score by Thea Musgrave.) Nothing of his work, such being the nature of Scottish Ballet’s ingratitude and uncertain taste, remains in repertory. Instead, for this brief visit to London, the troupe has brought a brand new Streetcar Named Desire which I judge to have reached some nadir of frightfulness in the company’s not un-checkered history.

I have long thought that Tennessee Williams’s eponymous drama was an over-wrought affair, dank with Spanish moss and sodden emoting. As choreographed by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, with Nancy Meckler as dramaturge, it is a numbingly literal realisation of the play in dance, attended by a score from Peter Salem of comparable earnestness, and given in a setting by Niki Turner which rivals these in its determination to use what seems a legion of beer-crates as building blocks.

Within these unexciting boundaries, the dismal matters of its two acts are played out with stifling literalism by a cast whose energies admit of some admiration, but who would have better spent their time trying to tunnel out of this inexpressibly dull event. That neurotic menace Blanche Dubois, one of the more inexorable yawns in the theatre, is offered to us as a seriously tiresome and less than vulnerable – indeed, rather stalwart and impassive – heroine.

The rest of the roles are clichés whose danced realisation excites neither interest nor admiration. The piece is an interminable waste of the dancers’ time, and ours, as the play’s clichés trudge past, the choreographer trying vainly to suggest the Deep South (there is a convulsing flash-back as Blanche’s family succumb to the Grim Reaper like obliging nine-pins) and the sordid activities of the Kowalskis.

By turns turgid and laborious, blatant at every moment, the production is a first contender for Olympic Bore of 2012. No further names, no pack drill. The two stars are earned by the ensemble for bravery and devotion to a lost cause.


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