Robert Tanitch reviews The Car Man at Sadler’s Wells Theatre, London EC1
Matthew Bourne is the UK’s most popular and successful choreographer and his major appeal has always been to dance-theatre audiences rather than to ballet audiences.
The only Carmen thing about it is the re-orchestration of Bizet’s music by Rodion Shchedrin. Bourne has got rid of Merimee’s story of cigarette girls, soldiers, toreadors and bull-fighting completely.
Instead he tells a lurid film noir melodrama, which is loosely based on James M Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice and set in 1950’s America. Lez Brotherston provides a versatile set.
The production, loud, brash, crude and homo-erotic, has a raw physicality. There are showers in the nude, bare-knuckle fights, orgies and buggery in and out of prison.
The show always had a strong story-line, bags of energy and lots of humour. The choreography is now much improved.
Bourne loves movies and the whole company has been encouraged to watch films of the period and base their characterisations on Marlon Brando, Lana Turner, Sophia Loren, James Dean, etc, etc.
The characters are character-driven rather than dance-driven and therefore require actor- dancers.
Luca, a drifter, arrives into a small town called Harmony in the Midwest and gets employed as a garage mechanic. He has sex with Lana, his boss’s young wife, and he also has sex with Angelo, a sensitive youngster, who is bullied by the community.
One of the high spots is when Lana and Angelo both take centre stage, dancing, dreaming, fantasising, each in her/his own space/world, reliving the great sex they have just had, totally oblivious to the other, and totally convinced that they are the only one Luca loves
The Car Man is hugely enjoyable. There are fine performances by Chris Trenfield as Luca, Zizi Strallen as Lana, Alan Vincent as Lana’s abusive husband and especially by Liam Mower (who created Billy Elliott in the stage musical version) and is very convincing as Angelo.