Company: Northern Ballet Theatre (NBT)
What: A Streetcar Named Desire
Where: Bradford, Alhambra
Strong Story, brilliant design, atmospheric score (part electronic) and wining choreography. It should help restore NBT's good name with its audience, though like Carmen the lack of pointe work may annoy the odd diehard.
NBT have been struggling a bit of late without settled artistic management to lead them for nearly 3 years. Their new productions - Great Expectations and Jekyll and Hyde - have not been particularly liked by either the audience or critics. However a new Artistic Director, David Nixon, has just arrived and now Streetcar materialises using the same creative team of Didy Veldman and Patricia Doyle who delivered Carmen, the companies last new piece that was a success.
As I drove up to Bradford I was hoping that with this new seasons opening they would be turning a corner and be heading for pleasanter times...
"A man, his wife, and her sister become involved in a steamy triangle in New Orleans". So says the opening description of the film at http://www.homevideos.com/revclas/30.htm and I'm not one to disagree! The original film - of which I've only seen parts - is considered a major classic staring as it did Vivian Leigh and Marlon Brando and based on Tennessee Williams legendary play.
The NBT programme gives some of the context and plot but purposefully (like a detective story) does not give the whole game away and perhaps neither should we. The story revolves around Blanche, an attractive loose cannon of a woman, her married sister Stella and Stanley the husband. It's set in New Orleans, its hot, sex is omnipresent and Blanch and Stanley come to both hate and love each other, while the innocent Stella does her best to believe in all of them and keep the family straight. Act 1 is a reasonably straight story telling whereas act 2 is much more about the mind and memory. It's powerful, heady stuff.
Design, Sets and Costumes
Es Devlin has done a grand job of creating a hot cheap tenement block feel. The walls are thin - to the point of being semi-transparent and pipes, electric cables stray wherever for cheapness - there are not aesthetics here. No space... few secrets...
The set moves to give different perspectives and at times the bathroom or bedroom is centre stage rather than the living room / kitchen. The costumes are realistic except in the second act when we get a plethora of demented images - psychedelic, spiders...
Devlin also did God's Plenty, the Rambert piece based on the Canterbury Tales, and I see I called them as "Stunning" at the time. Lez Brotherston is a name you often swear by for design and I think Devlin is at the start of creating a similar reputation.
I much enjoyed Veldman's Carmen - no pointe shoes on a such a singularly 'pointee' company worked because the dancers really punched home the story and Veldman's movement is so human. Streetcar follows is in the same tradition and Act 1 is littered with solo's and pdd that echo the torment, confusion, hate and sassy love. I really enjoy the flowing and free nature of Veldman's work especially in pdd where she seems to work on 3 or 4 different physical levels in the twinkling of an eye. Is a graceful but real movement a bit away from what can be the sweetness of some ballet. I don't think I saw though anything quite as good as the bedroom pdd from Carmen. In the other hand I greatly enjoyed some of the dream inventions in Act 2 and the corps coming on as spiders was a very neat and clever image that lingers.
Three dancers dominated Charlotte Talbot (Blanche), Fiona Wallis (Stella), and Jonathan Ollivier (Stanley). Talbot is sexy and dreamy by turns but this is a massive role that will take a while for her to fully unlock - more to come yet I think. I was though very impressed by Wallis who is a strong and naturalistic Stella. Ollivier as her husband was sweatily convincing enough, but most woman in the audience seemed only to be lusting after his body - tall, dark, handsome and mussily slim it was often to be seen without the benefit of a top. I hate him of course! Overall I've seen NBT field slightly stronger casts but it was pretty fine and in the oft performing it will get very strong.
Does it work?
Worth the trip from London to Bradford and back again on the night... look forward to seeing it again too.