Wednesday, 15 June 2022

REVIEW: Matthew Bourne’s The Car Man at the Royal Albert Hall

Having long been a fan of Matthew Bourne’s, I was excited to see the reimagining of Bizet’s Carmen at the iconic Royal Albert Hall for its 150th birthday celebrations. Famously working his magic by modernising operas and ballets to appeal to a wider audience, The Car Man, et in 1960s America at a grubby garage-diner, is a dramatic- and steamy! - thriller. 

A small town named ‘Harmony’ becomes the scene of infidelity and murder when an attractive stranger arrives and stirs the pot, causing devastating scenes. It goes without saying that the New Adventures dancers are at the top of their game, especially when Bourne’s choreography is satisfying in every sense. 

Each dance is fulfilling as it flows into another; duets are followed by ensemble pieces, leading into a solo, then physical theatre, to further the narrative. There are too many stand-out moments to name one, and the pacing ensures that you never bore of the story. Despite working in a small space for such a large cast- Bourne does not cut corners. While in keeping with the original plot and traditional dance styles, he weaves inclusivity, gender fluidity and varied sexual orientation into his work seamlessly.

The set has many levels; the garage and diner on the ground, and another platform that transforms into other rooms or cells. Above these, Designer Lez Brotherston has added large screens which pose as landscapes for the surrounding desolate area, as well as playing videos that aide the storytelling. For every emotional interaction between the lead characters; Dino (Alan Vincent), Lana (Zizi Strallen), Rita (Kayla Collymore), Angelo (Paris Fitzpatrick) and Luca (Will Bozier), their pre-recorded facial expressions are magnified on the screens. Although is more cinematic than you would normally see in live performances, I like how this prevented them from over acting, which could be easily done in such a large venue. They all maintained natural body language throughout their dances without any vital moments getting lost. 

The size of the venue and its wildly high ceilings does take some getting used to. The only drawback of this amazing space is that the dancers must work harder to sustain the attention of the audience who tower above them. The platform is hardly used, and the poles become somewhat of an obstruction to the main stage. When used as an entry and exit to the town, we are drawn in by our proximity to the dancers, and Chris Davey’s lighting design conjuring up a casino or road are truly incredible, so it is a shame that it has not been further integrated. Terry Davies musical direction of the original score shows off the dramatic score and gives you the all-encompassing adoration of live performance that we have craved so dearly for the past 2 years.

Review by Hannah Storey

Rating: ★★★★

Seat: Stalls Row K, Seat 80 | Price of Ticket: £77.50

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