Attitude Reviews South Downs/The Browning Version and a ballet of A Street Car Named Desire.
A STREET CAR NAMED DESIRE
On tour to Aberdeen, Inverness and Belfast
Director: Nancy Meckler
Choreography: Annabelle Lopez Ochoa
SOUTHDOWNS/ THE BROWNING VERSION
At The Harold Pinter Theatre, London
By: David Hare/Terence Rattigan
Cast: Anna Chancellor, Nicholas Farrell, Jonathan Bailey, Bradley Hall, Rob Heaps, Liam Morton, Mark Umbers, Andrew Woodall
Director: Jeremy Herrin/Angus Jackson
There are plenty of occasions as a theatre critic when you can sit through weeks of average theatre so it was exhilarating to enjoy two consecutive evenings of extraordinary theatre recently.
I smirked when I read that Scottish Ballet were to attempt turning Tennessee Williams’ heart wrenching melodrama, A Street Car Named Desire, into a dance piece. It seemed ridiculous that the gay writer’s masterpiece about a dilapidated southern belle losing her sanity on a visit to her sister and sexy brute of a husband would translate into dance steps.
In fact it’s a complete triumph thanks to the unusual matching of a choreographer with a theatre director. Their master stroke was not to simply reinterpret the action of the play but to think outside it’s claustrophobic naturalism and bring to the stage the inner life of the heroine. So we are shown, rather then told about, Blanche’s traumatic past, descending into promiscuity and alcoholism when she loses her family, home and her bi-sexual husband commits suicide. Each event is vividly depicted in a series of beautifully danced flashbacks so that it feels right that we continue to view the central action alongside Blanche’s increasing surreal fantasies.
The evocative music switches in style to reflect her early youth in the American South and the sleazy heat of her present fate in 1950’s New Orleans. The dancing too can switch between the elegance of an aristocratic wedding in the past to the earthy energy of a bowling alley, whilst Blanche always dances on point, ever the delicate ballerina in her mind, no matter what goes on around her. It’s a stark contrast to the swaggering, sexy machismo of Stanley, the brother-in-law who rapes her, rippling with muscle like a bull. All the tragedy and the lyrical beauty of the play is captured through dance – an extraordinary achievement given the richness of the original masterpiece. The story is easy to follow too, not always the case with new ballet.
At the Harold Pinter Theatre (formally The Comedy) there’s a very different emotional rollercoaster. A revival of a one act play about a repressed school teacher by Terence Rattigan, another gay writer, has been paired with a new piece by David Edgar that captures the isolation of a lonely boy.
Many gay men experienced feeling ostracised at school and the writing and performances in the first play, Hare’s South Downs, painfully show what it’s like to feel different from your classmates and how an act of kindness from an adult can make such a difference.
You fear the boy may grow into the type of man central to the Rattigan play. He’s an unpopular teacher facing early retirement from a 1950s boarding school. Nicholas Farrell is terrific as this seemingly armour plated soul who’s learnt to ignore his wife’s affairs and the ridicule of the pupils he fails to inspire. When, unexpectedly, a boy presents him with a leaving present the facade cracks, he cries and many uncomfortable home truths bubble to the surface as a result.
His wife is played by the wonderful Anna Chancellor who’s casual disrespect of her husband so clearly masks her own desperation and need for love. And the ridiculously handsome Mark Umbers plays her sometime lover who’s compassion for his rival shines through everyone else’s cruelty. It’s all tightly buttoned, stiff upper lipped stuff and yet it’s depiction of failure, heart break and despair will haunt you for a long time afterwards.
VERDICT: ***** (Five stars) Don’t miss Streetcar on its national tour and treat yourself to some fine writing and acting at The Harold Pinter Theatre, London.