Monday, June 01, 2015

The Car Man (The Lowry, Salford Quays)

Whether you're a man or a woman, straight or gay, you cannot fail to be moved in some way by the sexual charge of The Car Man. Matthew Bourne's take on Georges Bizet's classic 1875 opera Carmen has S-E-X running through it like a stick of rock, setting out its stall right from the off with a rousing, and arousing, Act 1 Prelude.

The women sport plunging necklines and floating skirts, while the men are dressed in oily jeans and vests, their steel-capped boots in no way hindering their balletic, yet intensely masculine, movement. The entire production is charged with sexual tension and erotic charm - the setting is transferred from 19th century France to Dino's diner and mechanics' yard in 1960s Mid West America, and while Bizet's story remains intact, the new location adds a flourish of West Side Story mixed with Giant and A Streetcar Named Desire.

One memorable scene in the original production of The Car Man 15 years ago was the mechanics' shower scene near the start of Act 1 - raw, sexy, cheeky. But a fresh addition to the steamy routine leaves nothing to the imagination of keen-eyed audience members. Put it this way: if you weren't expecting full frontal male nudity, you are now!

It's a cheeky little update to what is a very modern retelling of the plot. There's a same sex couple, humping away alongside the rest of them, unashamed, indifferent. Our hero Luca is bisexual: although his heart ultimately lies with Lana, he also has more than just an eye for the garage's hired help, Angelo. There's violence too, and blood and guts, alongside themes of male rape and alcoholism. The story is a heady mix of hedonism and stark reality, blending the beauty and grace of the choreographed art form with the unapologetic grittiness of an EastEnders plotline.

The set design is, as always with a New Adventures production, evocative and impressive, with a two-storey garage set as well as a diner, various motor cars and a projection screen. The lighting adds much to the heat of the production - we get hot under the collar watching these sexually active characters circle and devour one another, but we feel it most thanks to the sunset-red lighting and the chirrup of the cicadas.

Act 1 ends with a real shocker - if you don't know the story, you'll be outraged by the time you're nipping out for your ice cream (advised in order to cool off!). Act 2 opens six months later with a wonderful prison set, and a night club where Luca and Lana watch a frankly absurd yet endearingly hilarious cabaret act reminiscent of Kate Bush in her wackier days. The use of mime and facial expression during this routine makes it one of the funniest and frothiest parts of what is otherwise a pretty grim second half. There's a car racing scene straight out of Rebel without a Cause, and a depiction of Luca's descent into alcoholism, which is choreographed beautifully - he constantly reaches out for a bottle of beer or toward the bar, but is pulled back by Lana's guiding, guarding hand. It's clever, nuanced and just classic Bourne.

The Car Man retains Carmen's themes of love, lust, betrayal, guilt, revenge and violence, but throws in some 21st century storytelling tools to make it a thoroughly modern production, set in the past but with its roots still firmly in Bizet's imagination. It's an essential, must-see production - hot stuff in every sense of the phrase.

The stats
Writer: Georges Bizet
Director and choreographer: Matthew Bourne
Music: Terry Davies and Rodion Shchedrin (after Georges Bizet's Carmen)
Cast: Alan Vincent (Dino Alfano); Zizi Strallen (Lana); Katy Lowenhoff (Rita, Virginia); Liam Mower (Angelo); Chris Trenfield (Luca); Dominic North (Rocco); Cordelia Braithwaite (Mercedes); Glenn Graham (Bruno); Katrina Lyndon (Monica); Tom Clark ("Hot" Rod); Nicole Kabera (Gina); Andrew Monaghan (Vito, Erick); Danny Reubens (Marco); Leon Moran (Chad); Katie Webb (Frankie); Dan Wright (Dirk); Pia Driver (Delores, Shirley); Dan Wright (Chuck, Jose, Dexter)
Performed at The Lowry, Salford Quays, May 26 to 30, 2015. Performance reviewed: May 29, 2015.

The Car Man on The Lowry website (retrieved Jun 1 2015)
The Car Man on New Adventures website (retrieved Jun 1 2015)
The Car Man trailer (retrieved Jun 1 2015)
Matthew Bourne on The Car Man (video) (retrieved Jun 1 2015)
The Car Man TV commercial (retrieved Jun 1 2015)

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