Saturday 11 June 2022

The Car Man - Review

Royal Albert Hall, London


Directed and choreographed by Matthew Bourne
Music by Terry Davies and Rodion Shchedrin's Carmen Suite (after Bizet's Carmen)

Will Bozier

More than twenty years after Matthew Bourne’s The Car Man, his ballet inspired by Bizet’s Carmen, premiered in Plymouth the show returns to London playing at the Royal Albert Hall as a part of its 150th anniversary and marking the first time that Bourne has ever staged a production in the landmark London venue. No expense has been spared in this revival, with the director/choreographer fielding a cast three times the size of his original 2020 company.

The plot’s inspiration may hail from Carmen, but the aura of The Car Man hails from Hollywood. Set amidst an Italian-American community in the USA’s Midwest, the action plays out in the fictitious town of Harmony, a name that is as ironic as its images are iconic. This is a town of billboards, tumbleweed and Dino’s eponymous automobile repair shop, where the car men work. The music is from Rodion Shchedrin’s Carmen Suite supplemented by additional composition from Terry Davies, with the opera’s fabulously familiar melodies delivered to perfection under  Brett Morris’ baton, fused into mouthwatering leitmotifs that emerge through the two hour show.

Zizi Strallen

Bourne’s protagonists are a quintet made up of the abusive Dino who is also the owner of the town’s diner, his wife Lana, her sister Rita together with Angelo, a hired help and Luca an itinerant drifter whose arrival leads to the destruction of Harmony’s harmony. This review will not reveal how the five’s smouldering passions ignite, but remember that this is Carmen-themed where lust, jealousy, and murder have to fuel the narrative. Bourne’s vision is as bold as it is beautiful and bloody, with his characters’ sexualities straddling their desires and all leading to an inevitable and heartbreaking revenge.

Will Bozier is Luca the titular car man, with the practically perfect Zizi Strallen opposite him as Lana. Both of these performers are outstanding in their dance and acting and where the intimate nuance of stolen glances can so easily be lost in the Royal Albert Hall’s vastness, the billboards that double up as projection screens show occasional snatches of beautifully filmed lingering glances in true Sunset Boulevard style close-up. Strallen is wondrous in portraying both her allure to Luca and also in capturing quite how irresistible she finds him to be. Mary Poppins she ain’t!

Will Bozier and Zizi Strallen

Bozier is all muscle and movement. A guy who cannot keep it in his trousers and to whom any hole is a potential goal. Oozing testosterone, his is a role of almost perpetual or potential conflict or coitus. Physically demanding, Bozier’s performance is breathtaking.

Paris Fitzpatrick’s Angelo is the more diminutive of the younger guys, clearly vulnerable and at times violently violated and abused. Integral to the plot, his is a carefully delivered role. Likewise Kayla Collymore’s Rita. While hers may be the more marginal of the principal roles, Collymore dances with an assured and nuanced sensitivity.

Kayla Collymore and Paris Fitzpatrick

The middle-aged, flabby Dino is played here by Alan Vincent, a neat touch being that back in the day at the show’s Plymouth premiere, it had been Vincent who created the role of Luca. At the Royal Albert Hall however, Vincent captures the rage of the cuckolded Mediterranean exquisitely. And as is so often the way with a New Adventures production Lez Brotherston’s design work shifts the audience from London’s south-west to America’s mid-west effortlessly. 

For more than two decades The Car Man has been lifting the hood on modern dance, treating its audience to a powerful spectacle of music and dance that stirs the soul and pulsates the emotions. If you’ve seen it before, then you need to revisit this outing to wonder at how Bourne’s company fill the Royal Albert Hall. And if you haven’t seen it, then all the more reason to grasp the opportunity right now. Either way, just go!

The Company

Runs until 19th June
Photo credit: Johan Persson

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