Words: Simon Button; pictures: Johan Persson
Realising his dream to present a show at the venerable Royal Albert Hall, Matthew Bourne has revved up The Car Man to such a steamy extent there should be showers available to help the audience cool down.
There is, in fact, a shower on stage, or at least a simulated one, with frosted glass to protect the male performers’ modesty. Not that Bourne’s dancers are shy guys. They strip out of their tighty whities and drop their towels for a brief bit of frontal nudity that’s as hot as the 1960s mid-western American town in which this so-called dance-thriller is set.
We are, a billboard above the stage tells us, in Harmony, population 875. If the tight-bodied men and women hanging around the gas station and Dino’s diner are anything to go by, it must also be the fitness capitol of the world and the guys aren’t just horny for the girls, some of them are horny for each other.
Bourne has reimagined Bizet’s Carmen as a riff on James M. Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice with a hefty dose of homoeroticism. Some of the themes are the same – sex, homicide, and vengeance among them – and the French composer’s magnificent music is honoured, via Rodion Shchedrin’s ‘Carmen Suite’ supplemented with new compositions by Terry Davies.
The story is different, though. A sign next to the gas station declares ‘Man Wanted’ and it’s answered by a pansexual drifter named Luca, whose arrival in town fires up the passions of the owner’s wife Lana as well as those of the gauche bodyshop worker Angelo. A murder ensues with the blame pinned on innocent Angelo in a wordless noir in which Bourne shows his mettle as a master storyteller.
It’s hard to put into words the dazzling brilliance of his choreography as danced on press night by the incredible trio of Will Bozier, Zizi Strallen, and Paris Fitzpatrick and an astonishingly nimble ensemble.
The moves are fiery, fluid, sultry, and witty (there’s even a nod to one of Elvis Presley’s signature moves), with every single dancer bringing personality as well as precision.
The company comprises 65 performers and musicians, and the show is a spectacle – with characterful costumes, moody lighting, screens that add a cinematic feel, and a runway stage that brings the action right out into the auditorium.
It’s been supersized since it first played Plymouth Theatre Royal and The Old Vic in 2000, filling the Royal Albert Hall with sex, sensuality, and edge-of-the-seat plotting for what is the venue’s 150th birthday.
The hall was opened by Queen Victoria, who was perceived as a prude but who history tells us had a lusty side. I like to think that if she could time travel to the present day she’d be left as hot and bothered by Bourne’s masterpiece as the rest of us.
Matthew Bourne’s The Car Man is at the Royal Albert Hall until 19 June. For more information visit royalalberthall.com and for great deals on tickets and shows click here.