Matthew Bourne, choreographer of box office hits like his male Swan Lake, has long had a reputation for reaching a public other dance-makers can’t. The FT’s Clement Crisp awarded him the biting praise of, ‘an unerring sense of what the public want,’ and this joy ride of sweat, seduction and murder shows that skill at its most potent.
The Car Man: Matthew Bourne ’s “auto-thriller”
Pan-sexual Luca arrives at a garage in the mid-American town of Harmony (pop. 375), looking for work. Having won over the bullish owner, he turns his attention to the man’s unhappy wife Lana. But Lana isn’t the only one to fall for Luca, and passion laced with large doses of graphic sex boil together into a snake of a story with more than one twist in its tail.
For those who’ve caught on to the pun in the name, this isn’t a dance theatre Carmen, although some of the characters channel her spirit. Instead it’s film noir to music, more than a little inspired by the original film of The Postman Always Rings Twice.
The music is a bowdlerised version of Bizet’s Carmen, and you should be warned: if you are a fan of Bizet’s opera, or of the more circumspect Carmen Suite adopted by other choreographers of the Carmen story, you’ll find some of the butchery of this version quite hard to take. It’s played live by “The Car Man Orchestra,” which makes all the adequate noises as required, though just occasionally it does sound a little like an oompah band, as directed.
Heat, grease and plenty of testosterone keep the engine of this production well oiled, as the bulk of the action moves between a diner and car garage. Lez Brotherston, one of the most in-demand of contemporary stage and film designers, captures the hot grime of dusty 60s America, under Chris Davey’s shadowy lighting.
Bourne’s choreography is energetic, but if it could speak it would be vernacular rather than verse. The main flavour is Broadway musical theatre; and with Bourne being well known for his cultural references, you can pick up a little West Side Story here, a little Lindsay Kemp there, and quite a lot of American film noir throughout.
There are a series of pulsating ensemble numbers, where the highly committed cast give their all.
Marcelo Gomes: ABT star in London
Bourne often draws in a big name or two (Royal Ballet star Adam Cooper’s Swan being the most memorable), and this London dance show will see the celebrated principal of American Ballet Theater, Marcelo Gomes, join the cast. Having performed in Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake, Gomes is a torch-carrier for the choreographer’s work, and will undoubtedly bring a little Latin edge to the role of Luca.
Should you not catch Marcelo Gomes, though, don’t despair. The other casts are excellent, and on press night Chris Trenfield was a powerful Luca; though the wonderful Liam Mower fairly stole the show as Angelo, the bullied young man who triggers the final brutal denouement.
This is a sordid and steamy show - there’s a naked shower scene in the first five minutes - and subtlety is certainly not Bourne’s style. It’s raunchy, and provocatively so, sparing no graphic violence. It does, however, elicit a strong emotional response – and it you can deal with all that then you’re in for one hell of a ride.
A Matthew Bourne show can be great for the whole family, and his Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella are box office gold. For a completely different vision of Bourne, go and see The Car Man. Just don’t take the kids.
In case you miss it: The production will be broadcast on SKY ARTS on Monday 3rd August at 8PM in a brand new HD film captured at Sadler's Wells . The cast features Chris Trenfield as Luca, Zizi Strallen as Lana, Dominic North as Angelo, Kate Lyons as Rita, Alan Vincent as Dino.
|What||Matthew Bourne's The Car Man, Sadler's Wells|
|Where||Sadler's Wells, Rosebery Avenue, London, EC1R 4TN | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Angel (underground)|
14 Jul 15 – 09 Aug 15, Shows at 2:30pm on 18, 19, 26 & 26 July, and 1, 2, 8, 9 August
|Website||Click here to book via the Sadler's Wells website|