|Oldsmobile sedan from the 1950s|
Matthew Bourne's The Car Man Lyceum Theatre, Sheffield, 24 June 2015
Matthew Bourne has never been quite my cup of tea but that does not stop my recognizing quality when I see it. Last night at the Sheffield Lyceum we had quality in spades. Quality in Lez Brotherson's designs. Quality in Terry Davies's score which incorporates Bizet and builds on it. Quality in the dancing including an impressive first performance by Tim Hodges in the role of Luca. Above all, quality in choreography by Matthew Bourne. The Car Man is the best production by New Adventures that I have seen to date.
Although it is described on the cover of the programme as "Bizet's Carmen re-imagined" it is actually a very ingenious and original work. It is set not outside a cigarette factory in 19th century Seville but in small town America of the 1950s. This was a time when women wore full skirted dresses of bright fabrics and elaborate hair styles that billowed in the dance. It was a time when Oldsmobiles and Studebakers were as capacious and majestic as ocean liners.
There is no Carmen in The Car Man but there is Luca. He seduces Angelo (Liam Mower) who is the nearest we get to Don Jose. He is a slightly built, bookish, inoffensive and slightly effeminate youth who works for Dino (Alan Vincent) in his garage. Dino employs most of the young men in the cast as mechanics and his wife Lana (Ashley Shaw) and his sister in law, Rita (Katy Lowenhoff) in his bar. The mechanics rag Angelo mercilessly. Only Luca takes his part teaching him how to use his fists as well as making advances towards him. However, Luca proves a false friend. He gets into a fight with Dino after making love to Lana. He wounds Dino fatally leaving Angelo to take the blame. Angelo is arrested and attacked in custody by a warder (Dan Wright). No doubt having been toughened by his imprisonment Angelo overpowers his attacker and escapes from prison with the warder's pistol seeking revenge. The nearest we get to Michaela in The Car Man is sister Rita who sees the crime from the start and tries to right the injustice to Angelo.
Well it's a good, tight, robust story that works and if anyone in Leeds who attended last Saturday's narrative dance perambulation (see My Thoughts on Saturday Afternoon's Panel Discussion at Northern Ballet 21 June 2015) remains in doubt as to what is meant by narrative dance he or she need only take the motorway to Sheffield. This is not ballet as such but it is dance that takes place in a theatre which for most theatre goers is all that matters. It is dramatic. It is exciting. It is spectacular. It is fun.
This company has devoted followers who leapt to their feet and practically whooped the house down at the final curtain call. That never happens in ballet but it is no bad thing as it introduces new audiences to dance in a way that no amount of midscale tours and live screenings from London or Moscow will achieve in a month of Sundays. As I said in the first paragraph this genre is not exactly my cup of tea (and despire an impressive performance it still isn't) but that does not stop me from appreciating it.
Roslyn Sulcas Review: Suspense and Charisma in ‘The Car Man’ in London 23 July 2015