May 28, 2015

Matthew Bourne’s The Car Man Will Rev Your Engine

Jonathan Ollivier smoulders as "the car man," photo courtesy of Chronicle Live
             Whenever a production of Matthew Bourne’s comes to London, you can be sure that I’ll be there with bells on. This time around, I attended a performance of The Car Man for its short one week run at New Wimbledon Theatre. For my previous reviews (always bound to be glowing) of Bourne’s work, you can read about Swan Lake here and Edward Scissorhands here. Georges Bizet’s opera Carmen is having a bit of a moment, as I mentioned in my previous post about Carmen Disruption at the Almeida Theatre (find it here if you would like a brief overview of Carmen’s storyline).

New Wimbledon Theatre
             To begin with, Carmen is already a very sexually charged opera. When you pair that with Bourne’s sexually charged choreography in what he proclaims is a “dance thriller,” magic happens. Take the original Spanish cigarette factory and turn the set into an American 196os neon-lit garage-diner called Dino’s. Add in the famous scores that have been arranged by Terry Davies. What you’re left with is a testosterone-fuelled vision of the tale involving sweat, sacrifice, and of course, lots of sex.

Man wanted very much courtesy of Johan Persson
             A giant sign with imposing letters welcomed the audience to the small Italian-American town of Harmony, population 365. Just like the idealistic-sounding Pleasantville, Harmony is also the actual name of several locations in the United States. For the purpose of the performance, the sufficiently deceptive and clearly ironic name choice inferred the calm before the very big storm.

             When an incredibly masculine and muscular newcomer called Luca (played by hunky Jonathan Ollivier) arrived, he shook things up in ways he couldn’t have possibly imagined. Ollivier was precisely the dominating male lead The Car Man called for. He was equal parts brawny and believable, supported by a stellar cast and set design by Lez Brotherston. A car positioned on the left hand of the stage was the perfect prop for the dancers to slide all over or use for a quick sex romp.

Lana, one-third of the love triangle, photo courtesy of Chronicle Live
             The modern twist unexpectedly showed itself by way of bisexuality, or perhaps what we could call curiosity. Either way, the handsome stranger not only began to toy with the heart of a woman (Lana, Dino’s wife), but also of a man (Angelo, a bullied hired help). This made Luca the ultimate lusted-after individual, appealing to both sexes, each blissfully unaware of the tangled web “the car man” was beginning to weave.

Angelo faces off against Lana for Luca's affections, photo courtesy of Chronicle Live
             The Car Man was the most erotic of Bourne’s productions that I have seen to date. My mouth was on the verge of being agape for its entirety, but my eyes certainly compensated by staying wide open. My friend and I nudged each other and giggled like schoolgirls during the shower scene, where the macho car mechanics stripped down to nothing but a towel, hiding their modesty (just about) by a strategically placed horizontal bar.

No caption necessary *ahem,* photo courtesy of Johan Persson
             The dancing was raunchy and steamy as the dancers’ bodies were slick with perspiration. Mimicking sexual positions, there was no shortage of gyrating or thrusting and occasional nudity. The greasy garage men in their oil-stained wife beaters chased after the women who provocatively teased them. The energy reverberating from the stage pulsated intensely as audience members most likely fell into one of two categories: squirming in their seat or becoming a bit hot under the collar.

It's getting hot in courtesy of Chronicle Live
             The plot thickened when the devilishly good-looking Luca and the female object of his desire were fooling around and her brutish husband Dino (played by Alan Vincent, the original “car man”) returned. One thing led to another and Dino was killed. When the police arrived, Luca’s male lover seemed to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. In a flurry of confusion and cunning quick thinking on the part of Lana, the innocent Angelo was dragged away by police, leaving the guilty two to live happily ever after…

Lana's husband Dino (Alan Vincent, the original "car man") catches her in the act with Luca, photo courtesy of Johan Persson
             …or not. The saying goes “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned,” but in this case we would need to replace the woman with a man. Revenge is a dish best served cold and the pair who escaped their fate would soon receive their comeuppance after Angelo’s jailbreak. If you know the story, then you know that it ends with a very literal bang. I’ll leave it up to you to find out who in the love triangle receives the brunt of the blow.

In Angelo's case, "Hell hath no fury like a man scorned,"  photo courtesy of  Johan Persson
             Although The Car Man does mirror Carmen, Carmen ultimately gave birth to the car man. The Car Man stands completely on its own and brings something new to the Carmen circuit. Whether Luca, Lana, or Angelo represents Carmen is up to individual interpretation, but Bourne did not intend to capture another Carmen. He instead created a car man and beautifully at that. Bourne loves to push the boundaries and The Car Man certainly surpassed my expectations, quickly securing itself a top spot alongside my other favorite of his, Swan Lake.

             As the reworked performance came to its dramatic close, the same Harmony sign from before made another appearance, cheerily prompting us to “come again soon.” To Harmony? Perhaps not, but to Bourne’s productions? Always.

 The Car Man's stellar cast, photo courtesy of Johan Persson

             The Car Man is coming to London’s Sadler’s Wells starting July 14th until August 9th. Book here now to avoid disappointment.

             [Author’s Note: On August 9th, before he was due to give his last performance as Luca in The Car Man, Jonathan Ollivier was tragically killed in a road accident. I was truly heartbroken to hear this news, especially having witnessed him perform so beautifully on stage. My thoughts are with Ollivier's family and the dancing community, who have suffered a monumental loss of an unforgettable talent.]

May 03, 2015

Switch to Silent Mode for Carmen Disruption

Photo courtesy of the Almeida Theatre
             As I waited in the Almeida Theatre’s lobby before viewing Carmen Disruption by Simon Stephens and directed by Michael Longhurst, I perused my program. How coincidental that the very thing I was reading about paralleled a long time fear of my own: technology and its detrimental effects. Stephens, the award-winning playwright behind The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (reviewed on my blog here), wanted to channel how media alienates and disconnects human relationships. He was also intrigued by the way in which European cities all start to blur into one. The unusual medium that he chose to tell his story was opera, specifically Georges Bizet’s Carmen. While Stephens was listening to the music from Carmen on the Underground, he realized that people’s lives possess operatic elements and he set out to reveal the inner Carmen in all of us.

The singer (Sharon Small), photo courtesy of Marc Brenner
             In the United States, 40 percent of people admit to being lonely, a number that has doubled in 30 years. In Britain, a registered charity is devoted to ending chronic loneliness. As Elizabeth Renzetti notes in the program, “It is the great irony of our age that we have never been better connected, or more adrift.” I second this sentiment wholeheartedly. In fact, some might say that my soapbox is talking about the way we use our phones and social media and how this is resulting in a society where we are more alone than ever before. Not only are we isolating ourselves from human interactions and relationships, but we are also forgetting how to forge those relationships in the first place.

             This is the age of dating apps like Tinder, where someone can say whatever they please while finding comfort in the protective aspects of their phone. Translate that to the real world, and suddenly, the same individual doesn’t have the confidence to recite the same line in person. Stephens muses, “How many truly fascinating conversations have you been part of, then pulled out of when you get a text message? We start to split ourselves off from other people.” This is a question we should all ask ourselves, yet it is most likely avoided because of what the answer might unveil. I could rant about this topic for hours, but I will spare you all and turn back to the matter at hand.    

Don José (Noma Dumezweni)photo courtesy of Marc Brenner
             Carmen appears to have been given a new burst of life in London at the moment. The opera is currently running at the English National Opera. I have never seen it in person, but after watching it for the first time on DVD, I was hooked. I recently attended a performance of Matthew Bourne’s The Car Man, which was a sensually modern retelling of the original through dance (review coming soon). Last but not least, the Almeida Theatre is presenting Carmen Disruption, where a disruption is exactly what we received.

             If you are unfamiliar with the storyline of Carmen, it is most likely one that you already know because it is rooted in love, jealousy, and human nature. The opera is based on a novella by Prosper Mérimée. It charts the love triangle between feisty cigarette factory worker Carmen, solider Don José, and bullfighter Escamillo. She dangerously toys with the two men’s hearts until she is eventually killed by Don José when Carmen seems to favor Escamillo. Carmen’s death outside of the bullfighting arena coincides with Escamillo’s killing of the bull inside the arena.

 Carmen (Jack Farthing)photo courtesy of Marc Brenner
             Carmen Disruption alluded to this tragic ending with a silent but forceful character in the shape of a dying bull. The realistic-looking animal, with its chest heaving up and down, acted as an inescapable foreshadowing that could not be avoided throughout the entirety of the play. The performance had its own versions of the characters from the opera. This time around, Don José (Norma Dumezweni) was a hardened taxi driver, Escamillo (John Light) was a money-crazed global trader, Carmen (Jack Farthing) was a stunning, self-absorbed male prostitute, and Micaëla (who was supposed to marry Don José; Katie West) was a disillusioned teenager. Then there was the singer (Sharon Small), who travelled to different cities playing the role of Carmen throughout the play, and the mysterious chorus member (Viktoria Vizin), the spirit of Carmen.

Escamillo (John Light) and the symbolic, ever-present bull, photo courtesy of Marc Brenner
             Vizin is an internationally-renowned mezzo-soprano and has played Carmen 100 times in 17 productions overall. As she belted out the songs and arias, the unexpected lyrics hung in the air: “We feel the skin of your telephone…” It is not the skin of others we feel anymore from genuine human contact. There is actually a cuddle service, where people can pay a lady for cuddles. To me, this is a sign of the times, a sad one at that. It is human nature to crave human contact, yet we just aren’t receiving it in the same way that we used to. The Almeida Theatre's productions always keep me on the edge of my seat, because they often deal with serious subject matter. While the typical show tunes of the West End are predictably feel-good, it can be a breath of fresh air to sink my teeth into something meatier with more substance.  

The spirit of Carmen (Viktoria Vizin) and Carmen (Farthing), photo courtesy of Marc Brenner
             The permeating intrusion of technology was felt strongly throughout the play. An LED board flashed words at us throughout the play to indicate incoming texts or other messages. The singer was utterly anxiety-ridden without her phone and found conversation difficult. Carrying a suitcase of pills from location to location, she frequently said she would need to look up details or names she had forgotten by consulting her phone. In other words, she could not function without it.

             The paths of the unlikely characters would cross in the street. They were so fixated on their phones that they didn’t realize where they were going and almost bumped into one another. This reminded me of an excellent video I saw online, where the artist imagined a world where people never look up from their phones and what the consequences of that might be (watch it below).
Posted by StreetArtGlobe on Saturday, April 25, 2015

             We are increasingly living in a digital age, where if we don’t keep up, we get left behind. One of the lines in Carmen Disruption is that porn tells you more about a country than anything else. Micaëla started an online flirtationship with one of her teachers, where they would exchange sexual Skype encounters. All of these things are examples of being violated through a computer. Some people believe that cyber bullying cannot exist, simply because we can all turn off our computers or other electronic devices at any point. It is worth thinking about though that cyber bullying would not exist if we did not have access to such devices. Micaëla goes on to describe naked photos as honest, because that nakedness is the most honest thing a person can give of themselves. Photos shared online are there to stay and haunt you forever.

Micaëla (Katie West), photo courtesy of Marc Brenner
             There’s a scene in Carmen Disruption where a boy on a motorbike was killed and the first thing that everyone did at the crime scene was take out their phones. To document this boy’s memory, complete strangers took selfies with his mangled body. While I was eating at a restaurant the other day, the couple across from me were barely talking to one another. Perhaps they had been in an argument, but the first thing the woman did when her dessert arrived was snap a photo of it on her phone. No doubt she will have posted that photo on some form of social media, exclaiming what a “wonderful” meal and time out she was having with her husband. The phone occupies an ominous space at the dinner table now. It’s the ultimate third wheel, but through the individual’s choice.

             There seems to be a disconnect in the way that we interact with others in today's society. Micaëla wanted someone to know her, so much so that they know what she does with her hands when she walks. When Don José visited her son, she was moved that he remembered how many sugars she took in her tea. She felt as though someone noticed her and thought about her. It’s about the way we make each other feel. It’s in these small gestures that we really get the feeling of knowing someone, not superficially, but really intimately knowing them. It’s hard to do that when we’re too distracted by our phones, when we’re in a virtual world that does not exist outside of this real one, a life that we only get the chance to live once.

Let me take a selfie, photo courtesy of Marc Brenner
             The standouts of the night for me were Farthing (Carmen), Light (Escamillo), and Vizin (the spirit of Carmen). Farthing oozed sexuality and self-importance to veil an underlying mask of insecurity. Light reminded me of Christian Bale’s Patrick Bateman in American Psycho, speaking in the same monotonic, calculated way. Vizin beautifully and chillingly brought the play to life with her opera singing. Although the characters occupied the same stage space, they were each absorbed in their own bubble. The running thread throughout the whole play that connected them was the spirit of Carmen.

It's a shame I couldn't fit the man to the right of me with his iPad in as well...
             The singer became so linked to Carmen that she didn’t know where she ended and Carmen began. Carmen the lover, Don José the fighter, Micaëla the lost girl, and Escamillo the macho: there are elements of all of them running through each and every one of us. Depending on the circumstances, we choose who we let loose into the world. Stephens’ reimagined version of Bizet’s Carmen was awakening and different, a true theatrical achievement.

             I leave you all with one of my favorite YouTube videos called “Look Up” by Gary Turk. You might have already seen it, but I beg you to take its message to heart. Remember to look up, people. Who knows what you could be missing when you’re looking down.

             For a dose of disruption, book your tickets for Carmen Disruption until May 23rd here.
For another great YouTube video on the same theme, view Prince Ea’s “Can We Auto-Correct Humanity?” here. If you would like to share your opinions on the matters discussed in this blog post, I’d love to read them below!