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Review of Matthew Bourne’s The Car Man at New Wimbledon Theatre

Matthew Bourne's THE CAR MAN
Matthew Bourne’s THE CAR MAN. Jonathan Ollivier (Luca) and Cordelia Braithwaite (Lana). Photo by Chris Mann

Let’s start with some cards on the table. In the early years of this century, I was given a DVD which changed my perception of dance completely. The DVD was Matthew Bourne’s “The Car Man” and I was completely blown away by what I was seeing on my screen. Then in 2007 I went to the Wimbledon Theatre and saw the show live. If I thought the DVD was good, then I wasn’t prepared for the awesome show I saw on stage. Well, 8 years later “The Car Man” is once again touring the country and last night I went back to the New Wimbledon Theatre to see how the latest production is looking.

It is sometime in the 1960s and in a small American town called ‘Harmony’ a young, handsome drifter by the name of Luca (Chris Trenfield) sees a ‘man wanted’ sign outside Dino’s Diner and garage. Inside, the mechanics are working hard – well playing as well – whenever Dino isn’t looking – and tormenting the most junior member of the team Angelo (Liam Mower) – a shy, nervous, ‘wouldn’t say boo to a goose type’ of a chap – while waiting for the signal that the working day is over. Finally the welcome sound of the hooter screams out and, after cleaning up and making themselves presentable, everyone goes out to the diner which is presided over by Dino’s young, flirtatious wife Lana (Zizi Strallen) – who really seems to despise her husband whilst always being on the lookout for some real fun in her life – and her sister Rita (Kate Lyons) – always in Lana’s shadow but with a real spine of steel under her pale, insipid girl facade. The gang settle down to have a great evening of drinking, dancing, getting over-excited with their respective partners and reminding Angelo that not only is he now outside of the group, he will never be accepted by them. Then in walks Luca, who catches the eye of everyone and very quickly establishes his place as top dog in every respect. What follows is a wonderful catalogue of desire, lust, love sex, murder, boasting, downfall and betrayal that makes your average year on Eastenders look like Blue Peter on Prozac as Dino, Lana, Rita, Angelo all fall under Luca’s influence bringing out the best and worst of them all.

“The Car Man” is based musically on the Bizet opera ‘Carmen’ but uses Russian composer Rodion Shchedrin’s Bolshoi Ballet version with additional music by composer Terry Davies rather than the original score. The story also doesn’t relate to the opera at all but is something that exists in its own right. Choreographer, and genius, Matthew Bourne mixes a range of dancing styles, from balletic pas de deux, particularly between Rita and Angelo through to a chic 1960s – probably high on special cigarettes – ‘symbolism’ dance to a beautifully choreographed street fighting boxing match sequence to tell the story You may have guessed by now that I truly love “The Car Man” but it really is a special show that starts from the moment you enter the auditorium to see Dino’s Diner and garage on the stage in front of you, and hear the sounds of mechanics doing their thing, whilst listening to music – little snippets of ‘Carmen’. Slowly, the stage gets inhabited by the cast, all moving naturally into place, Dino in his office, Rita behind the diner counter, the mechanics fussing around a car and finally everyone is on stage, the lights go down and Luca enters as the music starts.

The story flows beautifully and has many surprises along the way. There was a wonderful moment at last night’s production when, after a particularly graphic moment, two people emerged on stage and a member of the audience very loudly exclaimed ‘Oh my God, what were they doing?’ It really is magical to get a reaction like that from an audience, many of whom – going by the conversations I overheard during the interval – hadn’t seen the show before and gave the cast a standing ovation at the end that could have gone on for hours.

The ‘New Adventures’ company move around a lot with various dancers covering the principle roles. This means that each performance will be doubly unique in its combination of dancers as well as all the other factors that make every live show different from each other. However, the cast I saw were all absolutely amazing and I particularly want to single out Liam Mower, who was making his debut as Angelo. For me, Liam gave a masterful demonstration of the ability of dance and dancers to convey a story beautifully. When first we see Angelo, he is shy, diffident, downtrodden and so lacking in self confidence that as he sat on the seat alone, I just wanted to give him a huge hug. Once he meets Luca and his confidence begins to grow we see a marked change in the character – even prepared to stand up to his boss – and by the end after going through hell, a different Angelo is there for us to see. His demeanour, stance, facial expressions all spoke volumes of the man Angelo had become and the sacrifices he had made to get there. A truly fantastic slice of the skill of Liam in conveying this to us without a single word ever being uttered.

“The Car Man” is touring the country until August and irrespective of your current opinion of the art of dance this wonderfully choreographed story is both compelling and electrifying from start to finish and cannot come more highly recommended by me.
5 Star Rating

Review by Terry Eastham

Matthew Bourne’s The Car Man
The familiar 19th Century Spanish cigarette factory becomes a greasy garage-diner in 1960’s America where the dreams and passions of a small-town are shattered by the arrival of a handsome stranger. Fuelled by heat and desire, the inhabitants are driven into an unstoppable spiral of greed, lust, betrayal and revenge. Inspired by classic European and American Film Noir cinema and the Pulp Fiction novels of James M. Cain and Raymond Chandler; Lez Brotherston’s epic design, Chris Davey’s evocative lighting and Matthew Bourne’s vivid storytelling, create a dangerous and uncompromising vision of small-town America.

“THE CAR MAN” follows the phenomenal world-wide success of Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty, Nutcracker!, Cinderella and Edward Scissorhands; from the UK’s most popular dance theatre company.

“THE CAR MAN” is directed and choreographed by Matthew Bourne, with music by Terry Davies & Rodion Shchedrin’s Carmen Suite (after Bizet’s Carmen); designs by Lez Brotherston; lighting by Chris Davey and sound by Paul Groothius. The project is supported by Arts Council England through the Grants for the Arts funding programme.

New Wimbledon Theatre
Tuesday 21 April – Saturday 25 April

Thursday 23rd April 2015


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