The Car Man Is An Evocative Blend Of Thuggery And Buggery
Londonist Rating: ★★★★☆
Fresh off the success of his all-male Swan Lake, in 2000 Matthew Bourne created The Car Man, a ballet which takes Bizet's Carmen as the starting point for a wild ride through 60s Americana. This slice of dance noir won acclaim and an award from the Evening Standard in its first run and now returns to Sadler's Wells for the first time since 2007.
Luca (the eponymous Car Man played by Chris Trenfield) drifts into town. He takes a job at the local auto shop and soon falls deeply in lust with the boss's wife Lana (Zizi Strallen). It doesn't long for sex to rear its head with scenes of murder, guilt and revenge following soon after.
Bourne isn't reticent with the adult themes, especially in terms of sex and violence. There's male nudity almost from the off and an orgy scene in the first half sees simulated copulation of many varieties (including a touch of troilism, but with the notable exception of lesbianism). While many traditional operas deal with bedroom affairs implicitly, The Car Man gleefully explores Luca's exploits in graphic and explicit detail.
The fight scenes are among the finest features of this production. From petty bullying to organised scraps, Bourne wonderfully blends thuggery with buggery to create a vivant tableau enlivened by Lez Brotherston's evocative set design. And it's a good thing he does: the tired plot has references to not just its namesake opera but The Postman Rings Twice and any number of love-triangle revenge dramas with very little that is original.
The music is an artful blend of Rodion Shchedrin and Terry Davies's interpretations of the original opera score. Seamlessly spliced, the separate visions drive forward the vibrant dancing from this young troupe. The original Luca returns to the latest production in the role of Dino, Lana's violent husband, and provides a memorable performance dripping in malevolence and jealousy. Strallen's duplicitous adultress and Trenfield as the bisexual bounder are a compelling coupling.
Purists looking for something more redolent of traditional opera or ballet should head to Covent Garden; while not as cutting edge or shocking as it was in 2000, The Car Man is often a thrilling and sexy ride which has stood the test of time.
The Car Man continues at Sadler's Wells, Rosebery Avenue EC1 until 9 August. Tickets are £12-£55 excluding £1.75 booking fee. Londonist attended on a complimentary press ticket.
Last Updated 18 July 2015