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.]

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