A Streetcar Named Desire

Playhouse, QPAC (Queensland Ballet)


This is a strangely beautiful journey into the violent excesses of desire.

The action is set in New Orleans in the summer of 1947. Blanche Dubois (danced elegantly by Clare Morehen) has come from the relative gentility of Belle Reve in the American South to the shabby and seedy Old French quarter of New Orleans. She has to travel a street car named Desire to reach her destination, the apartment of her sister Stella (Melissa Tattam) and her husband Stanley Kowalski (Keian Langdon).

This violent, passionate role was made famous by Marlon Brando on stage and film. Keian Langdon brings an earthiness and vitality to the role which he dances with genuine menace.

This is a drama about a woman destroyed by her immersion in a changed social order. It has special poignancy now in this time of uncertainty as the global financial crisis marks the end of an old order and heralds a new, changed order.

The shifting moods of the drama are reflected in the music played with gusto by X-Collective, a cabaret ensemble of the Queensland orchestra under the direction of Craig Allister Young. The atmosphere of New Orleans is captured in the jazz of Duke Ellington (Black and Tan Fantasy) and Theolonious Monk (Round Midnight). Flashbacks to Blanches aristocratic life at Belle Reve occur with the fine music of Francis Poulenc, while Cesar Francks Sonata for Piano and Violin is chosen for the journey into Blanches emotional world. The music is simply terrific.

The dynamics amongst the leading characters have the audience on a knife edge. Blanches sister Stella, danced empathetically by Melissa Tattam, is the victim of domestic violence yet remains passionately attached to her brutal husband Stanley.

Clare Morehen skilfully expresses the decline and fall of Blanche, culminating in her rape, mental illness and removal to an asylum. This descent is made all the sadder through the love interest of the character Mitch, danced intelligently by Nathan Scicluna.

Flashbacks can be hard to manage on stage but they worked successfully in this production, thanks to the artfulness of set designer Graham MacLean, costume designer Noelene Hill and lighting designer David Walters. The contrast between the light, colour and natural surrounds of the Belle Reve flashbacks and the dun urban environment splashed with garish neon signs highlighted the tragedies which attend upon changing social orders.

The corps de ballet provided a rich context to the action as Blanches Shadows, Southern belles and Southern beaux.

In Scene One of his play Tennessee Williams has Blanche saying: They told me to take a street car named Desire, then transfer to one called Cemeteries and ride six blocks and get off Elysian Fields!. Desire, Buddha said, is the cause of human unhappiness. Amidst the sex, violence and jazz of post-war New Orleans it proved so for Blanche.

Choreography by Francois Klaus.
Music by Duke Ellington, Theolonious Monk and Francis Poulen
Performed by the Queensland Orchestra, conducted by Andrew Mogrelia

28 March to 8 April 2009

Duration: 2 hours and 15 minutes (including 20 minute interval)

— Matt Foley
(Performance seen: Wed 1st April 2009)