Beijing’s TinHouse Productions have untied Tennessee Williams’ classic A Streetcar Name Desire, then bound it back together again into a surtitled dance theatre piece, whose fragmentary nature requires, or at least benefits from, an audience’s familiarity with the narrative arc of the original.
The looped riff from Beck’s Loser accompanies the performers as they recreate a bustling city street scene, twirling and repositioning poles to form windows and hand rails, and bobbing along in perfect rhythm with the streetcar they’re imitating. It’s a strong opening, and about the last time anachronistic music is used.
From then on it’s period music all the way, chiefly jazz and blues, as the tale unwinds of Blanche DuBois, a now impoverished heiress, who is in town to throw herself on the mercy of sister Stella, and brother-in-law Stanley. The setting isn’t exactly clear – not obviously the New Orleans of the original, not obviously a city in the Far East, but some cross-continental amalgam (and the boys appear to drink Innis & Gunn).
Flashbacks and repeated sequences scatter the story in different directions and bring them back together again, while the dancing holds the eye throughout – the three male cast members do some swinging West Side Story-style group sequences. Visually it feels nicely complete. The small, busy stage helps ramp up the sweaty, emotionally-charged atmosphere. But a fractured narrative, the surtitles, the repeating scenes all add up to a taxing piece, whose audience is limited and specific, but potentially quite enamoured of it.